Incurable Colic? Docs and Moms Weigh In on Natural Remedies

VIDEO: Some folk remedies can soothe screaming
WATCH Put an End to Nonstop Crying and Colic

When asked about treating a colicky baby, these are just a few of the dozens of remedies, tricks and words of exasperation mothers all over the country shared with ABC News via Twitter:

"We suffered through colic for eight months. What worked one day wouldn't work the next. We tried everything."

"[W]alking around the room constantly. But the best is bouncing baby on an exercise ball."

"I used peppermint in my daughters [sic] bottle and some warm water."

"[J]ump out the window, lol. partly kidding, swaddle baby tightly and sway gently."

Anywhere from one in five to one in 20 babies have infantile colic in the first few months of life, and the fussiness and inconsolable crying associated with the problem can leave parents at their wit's end and many pediatricians stumped.

With no known cure and few reliable treatments, parents often will resort to any number of alternative remedies in hopes of soothing their crying infant.

Anna Kulcsar, 32, of Baltimore, a mother of four boys, struggled with fussiness and gastrointestinal problems with her first child until she noticed that having him near the thrumming laundry dryer calmed him down. That trick, combined with modifications to her diet (she now eats mostly raw foods and is vegan), seemed to lessen the extent of colic in each of her subsequent sons.

In their tweets, moms told ABC News that they used anise tea, long walks outside, rides in the car and even goat's milk in an attempt to soothe their babies' crying. Still other mothers said that time and only time could cure colic and urged patience and TLC.

What do pediatricians have to say about all the remedies? Are alternative remedies harmless but likely ineffective? Are parents wasting their time with drops and teas when they should just be making sure they burp the baby sufficiently?

U.K. researchers delve into the issue of alternative colic treatments in a paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. They assessed 15 previous studies on alternative remedies and found that most were inconclusive when it came to treating colic, though herbal remedies such as fennel extract and chamomile and the use of sugar solution had soothing effects on infants that merited further study.

But if none of the remedies worked consistently, what are parents to do?

"Apply common sense, TLC and patience," said study co-author Dr. Edzard Ernst of the Peninsula Medical School in the U.K.

Correct diagnosis is also key, added Dr. Thom Lobe, a pediatric surgeon based in Beverly Hills, Calif., because colic can stem from a number of different causes.

Colic, the Myth? Real Disorder or Catch-All Diagnosis?

Because colic has such generic symptoms and can stem from a number of different sources of discomfort, many mothers are left feeling like "colic" is just the label doctors slap on an infant who they don't know how to treat, said Crysta Pleatman, 40, a doula and parenting advisor in Cincinnati.

"Colic is a catch-all phrase for a baby who is fussy," she said.

In her experience, it's often not about food or indigestion, as many pediatricians posit, but about the baby adjusting to life outside the womb.

"They get overstimulated and cry, and all the bouncing around many mothers do to try to quiet them down only makes things worse," she said.

She recommended keeping the child in a quiet room, tightly swaddled. Also, she said, many parents, especially new ones, don't recognize the value of allowing the baby to cry.

"Crying is a way that babies learn to soothe themselves," she said. "It makes new mothers nervous to do, but sometimes letting them cry themselves to sleep is the only solution."

Just because the causes and remedies of colic may differ, that doesn't mean it's a "myth" or doesn't exist, said pediatricians.

"Colic is crying three or more hours a day, three or more days a week between the ages of 3 weeks and 3 months," said Dr. Kathi Kemper, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Because there isn't a catch-all cure for the problem, trying out alternative methods, as long as they are safe, can be helpful for parents.

"Based on human experience, spasmolytic herbs like fennel, dill, caraway are helpful and safe for most babies," she said. "Mint can make reflux worse, so it's not a good choice."

These herbs, especially fennel, were shown to have some positive effects in Monday's analysis and are also some of the ingredients in the popular "gripe water" solution. Gripe water is an herbal concoction that may include ginger, dill, fennel and chamomile and is used to treat teething, colic and stomach upset in infants.

Probiotics, used to treat supposed problems in the infant's not-yet-fully-formed gastrointestinal tract, also may be helpful and are a safe remedy, said Kemper and Lobe, though Monday's study did not find conclusive evidence in their favor.

When all else fails, the wealth of collective mommy-knowledge on Twitter recommends patience, because eventually babies will grow out of colicky behavior.