What is gripe water, and does gripe water really work to soothe baby colic? Or is it just another product that you don't need? Find out here.
A fussy, colicky, baby is no fun – for either of you. Hard-to-shake gas and tummy troubles can make anyone miserable!
How to console your baby, stop their extended crying, and relieve their gassiness? Sometimes, it feels like nothing is working. Is there a solution you haven’t tried?
Some parents swear by gripe water for soothing fussy, gassy babies. After all, it’s been around for many years. But what is gripe water, and does gripe water really work to soothe colic? Or is it just another product that you shouldn’t waste your money on? Find out here.
What is gripe water?
Gripe water is a type of supplement meant to calm babies and ease discomfort. Its use dates back to the 1850s, when it contained a mixture of baking soda, sugar, and alcohol – yes, alcohol, which we now know is extremely unsafe for babies. It was meant to calm babies down.
Fortunately, gripe water with alcohol can’t be sold in the U.S. today.
Current gripe water mixtures contain water, baking soda, and a mixture of herbs.
These herbs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but can include dill, finger, fennel, licorice, chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, or cinnamon, among others.
Some brands of gripe water also contain added sugar.
Today’s gripe water is meant to soothe babies with gas, stomach pains, and colic. Some gripe water manufacturers claim their mixtures also help with hiccups and teething pain.
Does gripe water work?
Some of the herbs commonly used in gripe water are thought to relieve gas and discomfort. In turn, they’re thought to soothe colicky crying by stopping what is making baby miserable.
The effects of some herbs used in gripe water have been researched individually, but only in adults’ digestive systems – not in infants’ digestive systems.
And while some parents say gripe water works, other parents say it doesn’t help at all.
Crucially, there are no clinical studies that prove gripe water works to soothe babies’ gas and tummy troubles – or any of the other problems it claims to solve.
In fact, a study from India compared babies who were fed gripe water and babies who weren’t – and found no difference in the amount of crying between the two groups. Babies fed gripe water cried just as long and just as often as the other babies.
Potential concerns with gripe water
Besides the fact that there’s no real evidence that gripe water works, many brands of gripe water contain added sugar.
This means any potential soothing effects of gripe water could simply come because the mixture tastes sweet to babies.
And you don’t want baby to prefer unhealthy sweets later – or get used to sweets as a soother – because of the gripe water.
The Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend that babies under the age of 2 shouldn’t have added sugar, as this may lead baby to prefer sugary foods over healthy ones later in life.
In addition, the sugar in gripe water could harm baby’s gums and/or newly-developing teeth.
Also, gripe water is a type of water, so it’s not a good idea to give it to babies younger than 6 months of age.This is because breastmilk or formula provides all the nutrition baby needs in the first six months of life. And gripe water could make baby too full to drink enough breastmilk or formula.
If you give any sort of water to baby, there’s the risk that it will “replace” some breastmilk or formula intake, and cause them to miss out on key nutrients.
And if you’re breastfeeding baby, giving them gripe water (or any water) could cause them to drink less breastmilk when they nurse. Since the “demand” of regular breastfeeding is key to maintaining milk supply, the decrease in breastfeeding could lead to a lower milk supply. That’s why gripe water should only be used very sparingly, if at all.
Is gripe water worth trying?
One thing’s for sure – you shouldn’t just pick up gripe water and start giving it to your baby. You’ll need to talk with your pediatrician first.
Only give gripe water to your baby if your pediatrician approves.
Tell them the brand(s) of gripe water you’re thinking about offering baby, since every brand of gripe water is different.
And always follow your pediatrician’s instructions for how much and how often you should give baby gripe water, and how long you should continue giving it to baby.
Keep in mind that many doctors either won’t recommend gripe water at all, or will recommend trying other gas relief methods before turning to gripe water.
“There are no medical benefits to using gripe water. In fact, I recommend against its use.” – Dr. Michelle Ponti (pediatrician in London, Ontario, Canada) for Today’s Parent
And if your doctor does say it’s ok to start gripe water, you might still try other methods first and only use the gripe water as a last resort.
Other gas relief methods include tummy time and bicycling the legs. If baby is formula-fed, the formula could also make baby gassy if they have a sensitive stomach, so it’s worth asking your doctor about this. Learn more tips on how to help relieve a gassy baby.
You could also ask your doctor about using anti-gas drops, which are different from gripe water. These drops contain an active ingredient that breaks up gas bubbles.
Plus, waiting it out might be the best remedy of all. Most babies’ colic will start to disappear between 3 and 4 months of age.
Is gripe water safe for babies?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Canadian Pediatric Society haven’t issued statements on the safety of gripe water.
And no study has shown that gripe water as a whole is unsafe.
But it’s pretty much impossible to say all gripe water is safe or unsafe, as there’s a wide variety of ingredients in different gripe waters.
Here’s what we do know – not all brands and types of gripe water are safe for babies. That’s because some ingredients are not suitable for little ones.
If you’ve decided to give your baby gripe water, avoid the following ingredients:
- Alcohol: Obviously, alcohol is extremely unsafe for babies. It’s against the law to include alcohol in U.S.-made gripe water, so stick with gripe water that’s made in the U.S. (Unfortunately, some types of gripe water made outside the U.S. still contain alcohol).
- Sucrose: This is a sneaky name for added sugar, which babies don’t need.
- Vegetable carbon (carbo vegetabilis): A type of charcoal that could cause constipation or make it worse.
- Peppermint: Peppermint could cause reflux-like symptoms or make them worse.
Plus, gripe water with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) needs to be handled with care. Only use gripe water with baking soda if it’s prescribed by your doctor, and follow your doctor’s dosing instructions exactly (as you need to do with any gripe water). Too much baking soda could interfere with the pH in baby’s stomach. This could cause too much alkalinity in the stomach and could make baby’s colic symptoms worse.
Another concern is that gripe water could cause you to miss other reasons why baby is uncomfortable. What if baby’s discomfort isn’t from colic?
Gripe water could lead you to believe you’re helping baby, when you’re actually overlooking the real cause. That’s why it’s always essential to talk to your pediatrician first.
If you do give baby gripe water, be sure to follow your pediatrician's dosing instructions exactly.
Don’t give baby more than suggested if it doesn’t seem to work – instead, stop using it and talk to your pediatrician.
And if baby is younger than 1 month old, steer clear of gripe water altogether, as baby’s digestive tract is especially sensitive.
Could gripe water cause an allergic reaction?
Another thing to watch for when giving gripe water is symptoms of an allergic reaction. Although most babies won’t have an allergic reaction to the ingredients in gripe water, any food ingredient could cause an allergic reaction.
Be alert for these and other symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- Hives (raised bumps)
- Watering of eyes
If baby develops allergic reaction symptoms, stop using the gripe water and call your doctor right away. And if baby develops trouble breathing, swelling of the tongue, or other severe allergic reaction symptoms, seek emergency attention right away.
Key takeaways for parents
Here’s what parents need to remember about gripe water:
- Gripe water isn’t proven to work.
- Only use gripe water if your pediatrician says it’s ok.
- The drawbacks of gripe water may outweigh the benefits. Use other gas relief methods if you feel that way.
- Remember that colic usually resolves on its own – things will usually get better eventually, with or without gripe water.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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