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Can alternative therapies help treat colic in babies?

By Kathy Oxtoby

Therapies used by osteopaths and chiropractors mean babies with colic cry less, finds a small new study. But we need larger, better-quality studies to be sure if this finding is reliable.

What do we know already?

If your baby has colic, it can be distressing. Babies with colic are not ill but will cry a lot more than babies usually do. Doctors say babies have colic when they cry for at least three hours a day, for three days a week, for at least three weeks.

Colic usually starts when a baby is a few weeks old and stops when they're 4 or 5 months old. No one knows what causes it. But some researchers think that colic could be caused by wind, or painful stomach cramps. Some babies may be sensitive to lactose, a sugar in cow's milk. Others may be sensitive to the proteins in cow's milk.

We’re not sure if any treatments help babies with colic. Lots of treatments have been looked at, but still need a lot more study before we know if they work and if they are safe for babies. Some studies suggest that certain gentle manipulative techniques such as those used in osteopathy and chiropractice might safely reduce the symptoms of colic in babies, including excessive crying. These techniques include spinal manipulation, which involves putting gentle pressure on the spine, and cranial osteopathy, which involves putting gentle pressure on the bones of the cranium (the top of the head).

However, there hasn't been any good research to say whether or not these techniques work for colic in babies.

To find out more, researchers looked at six small studies involving 325 infants who received manipulative treatments to see whether this approach could help reduce their colic symptoms.

What does the new study say?

Five of the six studies looked at the number of hours that babies with colic cried each day. Most of the studies showed that babies who had manipulative therapies cried less than babies who did not. On average babies who had treatment cried for one hour and 12 minutes less a day than babies that did not have this treatment.

But these therapies did not seem to help babies make a complete recovery from colic, researchers found. The parents didn’t report that their babies had any side effects after using these treatments.

How reliable is the research?

This review only looked at findings from small studies, which makes the results less reliable. It’s much more likely that the results from studies this small are due to random chance. We need larger studies to be confident these results are reliable.

Also, some of the parents of the babies taking part in these studies knew whether or not their children were receiving this treatment. This could have influenced how they felt and made them more likely to find an improvement in their babies' symptoms simply because they had been given a treatment. This may have affected the results and made them less reliable.

What does this mean for me?

It is still not clear whether using these sorts of treatments can help to ease colic in babies. More research is needed in this area to see whether using these types of treatments can help to ease symptoms of colic in babies.

Your baby should be over colic by the time they're 4 or 5 months old, and if they are still having problems you should see your GP.

If your baby has colic, you may feel exhausted and depressed. Try to take breaks and let family or friends help look after your baby.


Dobson D, Lucassen PLBJ, Miller JJ, et al. Manipulative therapies for infantile colic. The Cochrane Library. Wiley, Chichester, UK.

Dec 14, 2012