Acupuncture can help crying babies - study

A new study has found acupuncture might help to calm down colicky babies prone to "excessive crying".

Acupuncture was tested on a group of babies over a two-week period during the Sweden-based Lund University study.

The authors found babies who received acupuncture cried less than the control group and "needling twice weekly for 2 weeks reduced crying time significantly".

They also said most babies did not cry when receiving acupuncture and seemed to tolerate the therapy.

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 one minute.

Acupuncture is associated with relieving pain, restoring gut function, and inducing calm.

The researchers wanted to see if it might also resolve excessive crying in colicky babies, which they defined as crying for more than three hours a day on three or more days of the week.

How the study worked

They compared two types of acupuncture with standard care in 147 babies with colic.

All the babies were aged between two and eight weeks and were otherwise healthy; they had also been on a cow's milk exclusion diet for at least five days in a bid to curb excess crying.

Each child was randomly allocated to one of three groups. Group A received standard minimal acupuncture at one acupuncture point (known as LI4) for 2-5 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.

In all, 144 babies completed the two week trial, and the amount of time spent crying fell significantly in all three groups.

Researchers said it "is not unexpected as colic tends to clear up by itself eventually".

"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", the study found.

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.

'Essentially instantaneous', Nelson acupuncturist says

Nelson-based acupuncturist and former Acupuncture New Zealand president Paddy McBride has been treating babies for the past 30 years, and she's very pleased at the study's results.

Her most common baby clients are those whose mothers have also received acupuncture, but she recommends it to any parents.

She gave her 10-month-old great niece the treatment for the first time over Christmas after she was up late crying with tummy pains.

Ms McBride "lay her on her on the bed and put two little needles into her belly" and the crying stopped.

She said it was "essentially instantaneous, she just went 'oh, okay' and totally relaxed", and her mother was "astounded". She says this has been her experience with the babies that she treats.

Babies only receive needles for a fraction of time - Ms McBride said babies hardly notice whereas adults have them in for about 20 minutes.

It'd cost about $20 - $40 for an acupuncture session for a baby, which would generally last about 20 minutes.

The researchers 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".

"For those infants that continue to cry for more than three hours per day, acupuncture may be an effective treatment option," they concluded.