Acupuncture may stop babies suffering from colic from crying too much, according to new research.
The study shows applying the traditional Chinese treatment, in which thin needles are inserted into certain sites on the body, twice weekly for two weeks “significantly” reduced crying.
Researchers said their findings, published online by the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, show that it may help treat babies with infantile colic - those who cry for more than three hours a day on three or more days a week.
Excessive crying in babies is an issue for up to one in five families, causing pain for the baby and stress for the parents.
Acupuncture is known to relieve pain and for its calming effect and the researchers wanted to see if it reduce crying in colicky babies.
They compared two types of acupuncture with standard care alone in 147 babies with colic, aged two to eight weeks, at four child health centres in Sweden.
They had all been on a cow’s milk exclusion diet for at least five days in a bid to curb excess crying or fussing.
Each child was randomly allocated to one of three groups.
Group A received standard minimal acupuncture at one acupuncture point (L14) for two to five seconds without stimulation; group B were given tailored acupuncture at a maximum of five acupuncture points for up to 30 seconds with mild stimulation; and group C received no acupuncture.
Parents were asked to keep a detailed diary of how often and how long their child cried.
The procedure was carried out by 10 clinician who had been in practice for an average of 20 years. In all, 144 babies completed the two week trial.
The amount of time spent crying excessively fell in all three groups, which is not unexpected as colic tends to clear up by itself eventually, say the researchers.
But the magnitude of this reduction was greater in those given either type of acupuncture than it was in those given standard care alone.
And a significantly higher proportion of babies in the acupuncture groups no longer fulfilled the criteria for colic compared with those in the standard care group after two weeks of treatment.
During the second week of the trial, 16 babies in group A still had infantile colic, compared with 21 in group B and 31 in group C.
Parents continued to record bouts of crying for six days after their final clinic visit, and these differences in outcome between the three groups were still evident then.
The researchers said the babies seemed to tolerate acupuncture “fairly well.”
Out of 388 treatments given, the baby didn’t cry at all on 200 occasions, and cried for less than a minute on 157 occasions. Only 31 treatments triggered a crying jag of more than 1 minute. A single drop of blood was evident in 15 treatments.
Study author Doctor Kajsa Landgren, of Lund University in Sweden, said: “Fussing and crying are normal communications for a baby, therefore a reduction to normal levels - rather than silence - is the goal of treatment.”
Dr Landgren emphasised that parents should record how long their baby cries to see if it is excessive and then try eliminating cow’s milk from their feeds before seeking further help.
She added: “For those infants that continue to cry for more than three hours per day, acupuncture may be an effective treatment option.”