Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an herb sometimes touted as a natural remedy for colic. When used to treat colic, fennel is typically taken in tea form or in emulsion form (i.e., a suspension of fennel seed oil in another liquid).
In some cases, breastfeeding mothers consume fennel so that the baby can then ingest the herb while nursing.
Why Do People Use Fennel for Colic?
Proponents claim that fennel can help reduce intestinal spasms and get rid of intestinal gas (a common contributor to discomfort in babies with colic). Fennel is thought to act as a carminative, a substance that prevents the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract.
What are the Benefits?
To date, very few studies have tested the use of fennel in treatment of colic. However, there's some evidence that fennel may be of some benefit to babies with colic.
In a 2011 research review published in the journal Pediatrics, for instance, scientists analyzed 15 clinical trials on the use of complementary and alternative medicines in treatment of colic. Although the review's authors found "some encouraging results" for fennel, they note that there's not yet enough scientific evidence to support the use of any type of complementary or alternative medicine for colic. They also state that all of the trials included in the review had major limitations and flaws.
Clinical trials on the use of fennel for colic include a 2003 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. For the study, 125 infants (ages 2 to 12 weeks) were given either a fennel seed oil or a placebo. Study results showed that use of fennel eliminated colic in 65 percent of infants in the treatment group (compared to 23.7 percent of infants in the placebo group).
In addition, a 2005 study from Phytotherapy Research indicates that treatment with a combination of fennel, chamomile, and lemon balm may help relieve colic. The study involved 93 breast fed colicky infants. For one week, the infants in the study were treated with either the herbal formula or a placebo.
In their analysis of the 88 infants who completed the trial, researchers found that average crying time dropped from 201.2 minutes per day at the start of the study to 76.9 minutes daily by the end of the study for members of the treatment group. In the placebo group, meanwhile, average crying time only decreased from 198.7 minutes per day to 169.9 minutes daily.
Fennel and fennel tea are generally considered safe for children. However, some babies may experience allergic reactions and/or gastrointestinal pain after consuming fennel.
Where to Find Fennel Tea and Fennel Seed Oil
Widely available for purchase online, fennel tea and fennel seed oil can be found in many natural-foods stores.
When Should You Use Fennel for Colic?
Although more scientific support is needed to show that fennel can treat colic, it's possible that fennel may help alleviate colic symptoms to some degree.
It's important to note that symptoms of colic generally improve after about six weeks. If your baby is still experiencing colic at 12-weeks-old, there may be an underlying condition (such as reflux).
Alexandrovich I, Rakovitskaya O, Kolmo E, Sidorova T, Shushunov S. "The effect of fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study." Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):58-61.
Perry R, Hunt K, Ernst E. "Nutritional supplements and other complementary medicines for infantile colic: a systematic review." Pediatrics. 2011 Apr;127(4):720-33.
Savino F, Cresi F, Castagno E, Silvestro L, Oggero R. "A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of a standardized extract of Matricariae recutita, Foeniculum vulgare and Melissa officinalis (ColiMil) in the treatment of breastfed colicky infants." Phytother Res. 2005 Apr;19(4):335-40.