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Some treatments to ease colicky pain in infants that have been in use for years — some literally for ages — are now known to cause various serious side effects. These treatments include herbal remedies, antispasmodic medications, and even cereal.

Dicycloverine (dicyclomine hydrochloride)

There’s no doubt — dicycloverine does work when it comes to persistent colicky pain! Two randomized controlled trials have proven that dicycloverine is beneficial and significantly more effective than the placebo in reducing colicky pain and colic-related crying. [1]

It’s a medication formerly used to control stomach cramps in babies and adults, but it was proven to cause side effects such as apnea, breathing difficulties, syncope, and seizures. Even though the side effects are rare, they are serious, and this formerly go-to anticholinergic drug can no longer be recommended.

 

Star Anise

Illicium verum, the traditional Chinese tree, has been in use as a spice and an herbal remedy in the form of tea for hundreds of years, but it’s no longer recommended as it may contain toxins that could poison your baby. It has been documented that some Chinese anise products have been contaminated with another similar but poisonous herb — Illicium anisatum, or Japanese anise.

Apparently, Japanese anise causes both neurological and gastrointestinal toxicities and side effects, including fidgeting, vomiting, rapid eye movement, and even seizures — not only when given directly to an infant, but also in breastfed babies whose mothers have consumed the tea. Toxicities are possible even with a Chinese star anise overdose. [2, 3, 4]

Even though many parents swear by it, just to be on the safe side here, star anise tea should no longer be in your cup of tea. Chinese and Japanese (poisonous) anise cannot be distinguished just by looking. If you still want to try Chinese star anise — make sure to have it chemically analyzed. I advise you to skip it altogether!

Rice Cereal In A Bottle

Putting rice cereal in babies’ bottles to relieve colic has been practiced for a long time, but it’s one of the treatments for colicky pain in infants you should avoid, according to child development experts.

Of course you won’t poison your baby if you decide to give them cereal, but by offering it before they’re developmentally ready — and especially by putting it into a bottle — you put the baby at risk of overfeeding, developing food allergies in the future, and inhaling the thickened formula directly into the lungs. [5]

Besides treating colicky pain, many parents are scared that their infant is not getting enough nutrients only from breast milk or specialized formula, and are eager to give their child some kind of "real" food. Experts advise not to give anything except breast milk or formula to an infant until they’re at least four to six months old.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusively breastfeeding the baby for the first six months of their life. [6]

Research has found that four in ten babies — meaning a whopping 40 percent of them — are given solid food much sooner than recommended. Some of the mothers who participated in a study on infant feeding practices thought that the baby was ready, and others just wanted to please the baby who cried for the food that the mother was eating at the time. We’re all tempted to do it, let’s be honest! Studies also found that formula-fed babies are much more likely to be given solids too early than breastfed infants. [7, 8]

Alcohol

Some parents are so desperate to get their colicky baby to sleep that they put alcohol in the baby’s bottle. It’s hard for me to understand this, and even to believe such a thing, but a pacifier dipped in brandy or a drop in the evening formula bottle was pretty common a couple of decades ago. One of the first teething medications was a mixture of alcohol and morphine. I understand that people used to do it when they weren't educated enough, but this practice is unfortunately still around.

Please don’t give alcohol to your little ones! It’s extremely dangerous for the baby to ingest alcohol, not to talk about how counterproductive it is. Research has found that breastfed babies whose mothers ingested alcohol didn't sleep nearly as well as breastfed babies not exposed to alcohol. Even the slightest exposure to alcohol in mothers’ milk changed the infants’ sleep-wake patterns. [9]

Gripe Water

The blends often labeled as gripe water use various questionable ingredients. In fact, some of them use alcohol as their main ingredient. Alcohol content in some of the commercial gripe waters goes up to a whopping nine percent. No wonder even a colicky baby sleeps like a rock! These herbal home remedies are not considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but some companies label them as a dietary supplement, and thus manage to avoid FDA regulation.

There are no adequate studies that prove the effectiveness of gripe water in soothing stomach pain, and the risks are high. [10]

Safe Methods To Soothe Colicky Pain In Infants

It’s better to look for safer methods to ease colicky pain in infants or to wait until the baby’s digestive system is mature enough that the colicky pain goes away by itself. Of course, no baby is the same and no method is good for every baby, but there are plenty of healthy techniques to try (such as burping the baby regularly, keeping them in motion, swaddling, baby yoga, and massage, among others). Many people still disregard the warnings, use the shady methods listed above and claim them effective. Make sure to discuss your baby’s colic and the right treatment with your pediatrician!

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