Have we discovered the cause of colic?

Colic is common and distressing to both baby and mother. It occurs in the first few months of life and is said to diminish in the fourth month. Some practitioners hypothesise that the baby’s gastrointestinal system is not fully matured and so they struggle to digest the milk that they are given. As their system matures, colic tends to disappear. But for some babies the discomfort can continue for much longer. Recent research has pointed towards a possible cause of this digestive disturbance. 

Recent research
Research in the Netherlands has revealed that babies suffering with colic have more negative bacteria in their intestines than the beneficial bacteria - lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Babies suffering with colic presented with much higher levels of proteobacteria. These proteobacteria are often associated with excessive wind and could cause discomfort. This is a crucial step forward in identifying imbalances in the gut bacteria and the impact they can have on health.

How do gut flora develop?
Before birth a babies gut is sterile; there are no bacteria present. Beneficial bacteria need to implant and flourish in our gut to support our immune system and general health. A baby's first gut flora is passed from it's mother at birth. Subsequent flora are developed through the environment and feeding.

The health of the mother and thus the composition of her gut flora is important during pregnancy and delivery. If mother has issues with bloating, IBS, recurrent thrush, etc. these all suggest that her gut flora may be imbalanced. Many factors can affect gut flora, including antibiotics and stress. If babies are delivered by caesarean section then they are not exposed to the gut flora from the birth canal. These babies tend to develop different gut flora.

Gut flora and health
An imbalanced gut flora has been linked to a number of health issues including allergies and eczema. Further research would be useful to see if there is a link between colic and the development of asthma, eczema and allergies later on. There has been recent research looking at the presence of altered gut flora present in many conditions, including autism and obesity.

Probiotics and colic
So if altered gut flora is indicated in colic, would supplementation with probiotics help? Last year a randomised controlled trial of eighty infants with colic revealed that probiotic supplementation could reduce the length of crying time and duration of crying in predominantly breast-fed babies.

Pregnancy preparation
In the meantime, it would be prudent for expectant mothers, or those planning a pregnancy to consider the balance of their own gut flora and the influence that could have on their baby’s health. Consult a nutrition practitioner and ask for support for pre-conceptual care which includes addressing gut health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Birmingham, B13 8JP
Written by Sarah Hanratty
Birmingham, B13 8JP

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