Do probiotics help young babies stop crying? Well my answer has changed in the past two months and this is why.
This is the title of an article about a study published in the British Medical Journal yesterday: More Evidence That Probiotics Won’t Ease Baby’s Colic, and here is the title of an article from the Wall Street Journal that I shared two months ago: Probiotic Given to Newborns Appears to Help Prevent Colic.
My first reaction to this conflicting research was to cry like a newborn. Thankfully before doing that I thought about research and why it is important to sort through good research and bad research. There is a lot of analysis that goes into deciding whether a study is good or bad. Instead of giving a Stats 101 talk I will tell you this: research results can be flawed because of the study design, number of subjects in the study, conclusions drawn, and statistical significance of the findings. For example: If you have 8 guys on a golf course and 7 are wearing pants, 1 is wearing shorts, and the guy in shorts gets hit by lightning… there is NO conclusion to be drawn. Now the good thing about that scenario is you can now come up with a question that can be researched properly: Does wearing shorts on a golf course increase your risk of being hit by lightning?
I realize I may be getting off on a bit of a tangent. Research is tricky, and unless you have taken a course or two in statistics it is best to ask your physician or favorite statistician whether a study is drawing valid conclusions or not.
So what is my take on probiotics and crying babies? The study released in January was a small study, funded by a probiotic manufacturer. It left me feeling hopeful, but not convinced. The benefit of that study was that it led to a larger study, funded by a children’s hospital, and set up in a way (double blind, placebo controlled randomised trial) that was truly free of bias.
So the bottom line once again is: babies cry. Sometimes they cry because they are hungry, sometimes they are hurt, sometimes they need a diaper change, and sometimes they just need soothing. But sometimes babies cry because it is a normal developmental phase. If you are concerned it is always a good idea to call your pediatrician. I wouldn’t spend my money on gripe water, gas drops, probiotics, or homeopathic remedies. I would save it for a good bottle of wine. You may need a glass to get through the roughest of evenings!