A Swedish university study published yesterday concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment option for babies that continue to cry when conventional approaches have been unsuccessful.
They recruited healthy infants, aged 2-8 weeks, who were still crying more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, after having cow’s milk protein excluded from their/their mothers’ diet. In this randomised trial 98 babies had 4 sessions of acupuncture over 2 weeks and 49 had no acupuncture. All of them received gold standard conventional treatment in specialist child health centres. The acupuncture was minimal (very few needles, very shallow insertion, retained for a very short time period), according to usual practice among acupuncturists who specialise in treating infants. Effectiveness was measured in crying time, as recorded in diaries by the parents. Note that parents (and nurses) were both blinded, i.e. they didn’t know whether their baby was getting acupuncture or not, to avoid biasing the results.
Three different sorts of crying/fussing were recorded but I shall focus just on the total figures for all three. At the end of the trial those treated with acupuncture registered a 41% reduction in crying time vs 33% without acupuncture. This is not quite statistically significant though we would expect that when these results are combined with the data from three other similar trials the larger total numbers would change this to a positive. What’s probably of more interest to harassed parents is whether this size of difference is worth paying their money for (unless you’re Swedish and can get it for free). This is very hard to judge, not least because different babies (as with everyone) may respond very differently: some perhaps hardly at all while others get astoundingly much better. A good handle on this is to look at the response rates in the trial: what proportion of babies were still defined as colicky at the end? The answer is 65% for the no-acupuncture babies but only 38% for those given acupuncture. This is indeed an effect worth having and it’s both statistically and clinically significant.
The last word goes to Dr George Lewith, professor of health research at Southampton University: ‘It’s too small a study to be conclusive on its own but as there is no proven conventional treatment for infantile colic one could argue there is more evidence for acupuncture than conventional best practice’.
Published – British Acupuncture Council. January 2017.