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Can Prebiotics Help Infants with Colic?

Published May 23, 2024

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Colic is a distressing condition characterized by excessive crying in otherwise healthy infants, often causing frustration and concern for parents. While the exact cause of colic remains unclear, research suggests that imbalances in the gut microbiota may play a role. Let’s review how prebiotics can potentially help in alleviating colic symptoms that are not related to a medical condition in little ones and what parents should know about incorporating prebiotics into their infants diets. 

What is Infant Colic?

Colic typically manifests as inconsolable crying, often occurring in the late afternoon or evening and lasting for several hours. It can be accompanied by symptoms such as clenched fists, arched back, and difficulty sleeping. While colic usually resolves on its own by the age of three to four months, the persistent crying can be distressing for both babies and their caregivers.

The Role of Prebiotics in Gut Health

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and activity. They are found naturally in certain foods such as breast milk, as well as in commercial infant formulas. By nourishing the gut microbiota, prebiotics contribute to digestive health and immune function, potentially reducing symptoms of colic.

Balancing Gut Microbiota

Research published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition suggests that disturbances in the gut microbiota may contribute to colic [1]. Prebiotics help restore a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, which could alleviate colic symptoms in infants. A study in Nutrients found that prebiotic supplementation resulted in significant improvements in colic symptoms, including reduced crying duration and frequency [2].

Reducing Gas and Bloating

Colicky babies often experience excessive gas and bloating, contributing to their discomfort. Prebiotics, such as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that help break down gas-producing substances in the gut. A study in Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition showed that prebiotic supplementation reduced episodes of gas and bloating in colicky infants, leading to decreased crying episodes [3].

Improving Digestive Function

Prebiotics have been shown to enhance digestive function by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improving stool consistency. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that infants fed prebiotic-supplemented formula had softer stools and more regular bowel movements compared to those fed standard formula [4]. This suggests that prebiotics may help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort associated with colic.

Modulating Immune Response 

The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in immune function, and disturbances in gut bacteria may affect immune regulation in infants. Prebiotics have been shown to modulate the immune response by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria that support immune function. A study in Frontiers in Immunology demonstrated that prebiotic supplementation in infants led to changes in the gut microbiota composition and enhanced immune function, potentially reducing susceptibility to colic and other inflammatory conditions [5].

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breast milk naturally contains prebiotics, which may contribute to its protective effects against colic. A meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics found that breastfeeding was associated with a reduced risk of colic compared to formula feeding [6]. This highlights the importance of breastfeeding and the potential role of prebiotics in colic prevention and management.

Understanding Prebiotic Benefits in Infants

Prebiotics show promise in alleviating colic symptoms in infants by promoting a healthy gut microbiota, reducing gas and bloating, improving digestive function, and modulating the immune response. Studies have demonstrated significant improvements in crying duration, gas episodes, and stool consistency with prebiotic supplementation. Incorporating prebiotics into the diet of little ones may offer a natural and effective approach to managing colic and promoting overall digestive health.

If you are unsure where to start, beginning with a Baby Poop Test will help you understand your baby's baseline microbial composition that can offer actionable insights into what prebiotics might most benefit your baby. 

Summary

Prebiotics show promise in alleviating colic symptoms in infants by promoting a healthy gut microbiota, reducing gas and bloating, improving digestive function, and modulating the immune response.

View Citation

  • [1] Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: "Gut Microbiota and Infant Colic" (2019)
  • [2] Nutrients: "Prebiotic Supplementation in Infants with Colic" (2020)
  • [3] Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition: "Prebiotics and Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Colicky Infants" (2018)
  • [4] European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Prebiotic-Supplemented Formula and Stool Consistency in Infants" (2017)
  • [5] Frontiers in Immunology: "Prebiotic Supplementation and Immune Function in Infants" (2021)
  • [6] JAMA Pediatrics: "Breastfeeding and Risk of Colic" (2018)