Researchers have confirmed positive evidence which could potentially give hope to some parents struggling with colic, or excessive crying in newborns.

Babies who cry or fuss a lot and can't be settled are often described as having 'colic'. We don't know what causes colic, but we do know it can be hard to handle. The condition, which affects one in five families, is burdensome and is associated with maternal depression, child abuse such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, and early breastfeeding cessation.

Up until now, there has been no effective treatment for colic. A new international study led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), in collaboration with 11 other institutions around the world, found the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri has the potential to provide some reduction in crying in exclusively breastfed babies less than three months old.

Researchers found compared to a placebo, the probiotic group was two times more likely to reduce crying by 50 per cent, by the 21st day of treatment, for the babies who were exclusively breastfed.

Lead author from MCRI and paediatrician Dr Valerie Sung said in the last decade, many studies have looked at the role of probiotics in treating colic.

"One particular strain, Lactobacillus reuteri (L reuteri) DSM 17938, has shown promise, but results have been conflicting."

The study, published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, combined raw data from four major high quality double-blind placebo controlled L reuteri trials, from Italy, Poland, Canada and Australia. The Australian trial, also led by Dr Sung, was the largest and only trial including both breastfed and formula-fed babies which showed L reuteri to be ineffective. However, when combined with the other three trials, it is clear that L reuteri is effective for babies with colic who are exclusively breastfed.

Dr Sung said while the study was hopeful, the lack of studies on formula-fed babies meant it should not be considered an automatic cure.

"We did find evidence that L reuteri is effective in breastfed babies with colic. The role of L reuteri in formula-fed babies with colic cannot be determined due to lack of studies."

"Ultimately the effectiveness of this treatment will need to be assessed on a case by case basis. It is also important to remember that each probiotic strain works differently. L reuteri is the only probiotic strain that may help crying babies who are breastfed."

The study was supported by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.

Kim and Celia's story

New mum Kim was overjoyed to welcome her daughter Celia into her family 12 weeks ago, but dealing with a colicky baby has been a challenge.

infant colic research

Kim said they try to ensure all of Celia's needs are covered, that she's fed, clean nappy and burp her, so they can be sure that it's not one of those elements that are making her cry.

"Then we try to get her to sleep, but generally she can't because she's so upset. The crying and being unsettled can last for hours, so then it's just love! We hold her, cuddle her and do our best to get her to sleep but generally she won't so we give her lots of cuddles and I hold her next to my chest so she can hear my heart beat."

"It's heartbreaking to watch your newborn child struggle to settle. You try everything you can to help them as you can see how unhappy they are. If there was something that could provide relief I would definitely try it."