As It Happens

Baby won't stop crying? Swedish study claims acupuncture could help

Researcher Kajsa Landgren is the author of a new study in Sweden which used acupuncture to treat colic. She spoke with guest host Helen Mann about how sticking babies with tiny needles can actually help them stop crying.
A new British study that looked at the normal amount of crying in babies, found that babies cry more in Canada, Britain and Italy than in other countries. Danish and Japanese babies had the lowest crying rates. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

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It seems like a counter-intuitive strategy to stop a baby from crying, but researchers in Sweden say it works.

Scientists tried using acupuncture to treat babies crying from colic and then compared it to more conventional techniques to calm a baby. The controversial study is published by Acupuncture in Medicine. AiM is owned by the British Medical Journal.

Since its publication, many scientists have criticized the journal for publishing the study. 

Kajsa Landgren, Lund University (Lund University)

Colic is characterized by excessive crying in a healthy baby. The causes are unknown and treatments are inconclusive. But Kajsa Landgren, lecturer at Lund University and author of the study, thinks alternative medicine like acupuncture could provide effective treatment.
She spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about her findings. Here is part of their conversation.

Helen Mann: Ms. Landgren, how did the treatments work? How were they given?

Kajsa Landgren: It's a very brief intervention. Those babies who were asleep in the car seat when they were carried into the treatment room, they rarely woke up. The needle prick is only a few seconds and it's about 3 mm deep — it's a very thin needle. In most treatment occasions, the baby didn't cry.
A hand is shown in close-up, holding an acupuncture needle.
(Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

HM: So did the acupuncture treatments have any effect in terms of reducing the colicy nature of these babies?

KL: Crying was reduced in all three groups. There was a third group who did not get any acupuncture, but the same amount of attention and the same support to the parents. Parents were blinded so they didn't know whether their infant got acupuncture or not. They meet the acupuncturist twice a week for two weeks. During the second intervention week, the crying was significantly lower in the acupuncture groups compared to baseline. There was a control group who got exactly the same attention from a blinded nurse. The only difference between these groups were acupuncture or no acupuncture. I think it's impressive that a small intervention like that could make a difference that is clinically relevant. 

HM: Now some doctors are cautioning that you can't really draw conclusions because your sample was so small. it was a pretty small number of babies. How do you respond to that criticism?

KL: Well, 147 infants is not that little. But, of course, the evidence is stronger the bigger a study is.​

Desperate parents, they are often willing. They are seeking complementary and alternative medicine. It's not that new. Acupuncture has been used for infantile colic for many years, in many countries.- Kajsa Landgren, PhD, Lund University

HM: One doctor in the United Kingdom questioned the results because he says colicy babies respond to even minimal attention — as soon as you're fussing over them, the symptoms of the colic will dissipate. What's your response to that?

KL: That all groups got exactly the same attention and the same advice, so the only difference between the control group and the acupuncture groups was the acupuncture and the crying reduced significantly faster. So I think it's plausible that it was acupuncture that reduced the crying.

HM: So do you think people with colicy babies should be taking them to get acupuncture?

KL: Yes, many parents do. It's a very popular treatment. But my first advice is to register the infant's crying because crying is often over-estimated by tired, worried and desperate parents. The first thing to do is to measure the crying in a diary to get a more objective view of how much this baby is actually crying.
A doctor treating a young boy at an acupuncture clinic at a hospital in Beijing in 1955. (Richard Harrington/Three Lions/Getty Images)

HM: Can you understand that maybe some parents think it's counter-intuitive if they have a crying baby that they should take it somewhere where it's going to be pricked by a needle?

KL: Yes, I can understand that. Some parents don't want to give their infants medication. Some don't want to give them acupuncture. But desperate parents, they are often willing. They are seeking complementary and alternative medicine. It's not that new. Acupuncture has been used for infantile colic for many years, in many countries . . . That's why we should do research to find out if it is effective or not because you should not do invasive treatment or any treatment, if it does not work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Dr. Kajsa Landgren.