Is Gripe Water Safe for Babies?

fussy baby
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If you're the parent of a fussy baby, chances are, you've heard a lot of helpful suggestions from other people on how to soothe and comfort your baby. If your baby has colic, you might hear things from people on how to help, such as walking the baby around, going for a long drive at nighttime, cutting certain foods out of your diet, and solutions like gripe water.

If you haven't heard of gripe water before, it's a liquid that is touted to have calming properties for babies who have upset bellies. Many moms and dads swear by the gripe water's seemingly magical abilities. But giving something other than breast milk or formula to your baby is not something that you should do without careful consideration. So what is gripe water and most importantly, is it safe for babies?

What Is Gripe Water?

Gripe water is a very common substance that is given to babies, and not just in the United States. One study, for example, found that the majority of infants in India are given gripe water in the first six months of life to them by parents or caregivers. 

In most cases, a caregiver or parent decides to give a baby gripe water because they believe it's good for a baby or because they hear an anecdotal experience from someone else about gripe water. You know, when a friend of a friend had a colicky baby and she gave her baby gripe water and just like that, the baby started sleeping through the night. For desperate parents who just want to sleep, an easy solution like gripe water definitely seems worth a try, even if it's not recommended by a doctor. 

Gripe water is typically not difficult to find and is available at most regular grocery stores. Most of the time, gripe water is administered to the baby in the form of drops from the included droplet in the bottle. Gripe water is most often given to babies in the first year of life, as that is when symptoms of colic or overall fussiness is most prevalent.

The ingredients in gripe water can vary based on where you buy it and what brand you use. There are many different types of gripe water that you can buy over-the-counter or online. Previously, gripe water consisted of sugar and alcohol, sometimes in startlingly high amounts. 

A quick search of some common types of grip waters available on the market today reveals that gripe water tends to consist of ingredients such as agave, purified water, and ginger flavor. Although they vary in composition and make-up, most of the time, gripe water is just a fancy way to describe sugar water. Sugar water has been used in hospitals as a way to soothe babies and reduce pain during procedures, but it's never used in regular doses over long periods of time. Other ingredients might include herbs, preservatives, or sodium bicarbonate (salt).

Does Gripe Water Work?

No study has proven that gripe water works for any of its intended purposes. In fact, all of the studies that have been done have shown that gripe water does not seem to be effective at all.

For instance, a study done in India showed that there was no difference in the amount of crying between two groups of babies. The group of babies that received gripe water cried just as much and for just as long as the babies who did not. And furthermore, the study also found that mothers and caregivers reported more vomiting and constipation in the infants who received the gripe water. 

Although that study doesn't necessarily prove that gripe water causes more vomiting and constipation it is an indication that gripe water doesn't seem to help those babies either. 

Is Gripe Water Safe?

Because the ingredients in gripe water can vary, it's hard to issue a blanket statement against all gripe waters. But overall, no one study has proven that gripe water is directly harmful to babies. However, there are ingredients in gripe water that can be a concern.

For example, although most brands claim to be alcohol-free, not all forms of gripe water are alcohol-free. One study found that gripe water sold in India, for example, did contain alcohol. Also, gripe water containing sodium bicaronate can lead to alkalosis and milk alkali syndrome. In the most extreme example of just how dangerous gripe water can be, there have been at least two confirmed cases of babies dying as a direct result of gripe water; one from septic shock and another from a parasite in the gripe water.

Other potential risks of gripe water include increased vomiting and constipation in babies. The Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics also notes that gripe water can put a baby at an increased risk for exposure to harmful things like bacteria and allergens. Gripe water, because it generally contains high levels of sugars, may also lead to early-onset issues with developing teeth. 

Common Issues

One of the biggest issues with gripe water is not necessarily what gripe water does to babies, but what it takes away from them. More specifically, if you are giving your baby a lot of gripe water throughout the day or night, he or she might be getting full just from gripe water.

A baby's stomach is not that big, so it doesn't take a lot of liquid to fill it up. And if your baby is full from gripe water, he or she may not get hungry for breast milk or formula. Gripe water does not have any nutritional value, so your baby may miss out on key nutrition and ingredients that she needs to grow and develop in a healthy way.

If this happens consistently, your baby may develop problems such as delayed or slowed growth or inadequate weight gain. It may also interfere with the microbes in the digestion system that may play a role in digestion and overall health. Good bacteria is helpful for our bodies, especially in babies, whose immune systems are still developing

Although it may not be as big of an issue in well-nourished infants, consistent use of gripe water in low-income families is a big concern. One study found that gripe water is often used in developing countries, such as India, where mothers may not be well-enough nourished themselves to produce adequate levels of breast milk or mothers may not be able to afford enough formula for their infants. Gripe water is used as a non-nutritive supplement to feeding, so in those cases, gripe water can be dangerous because it's being used to replace necessary feedings for babies. And lastly, if a mother begins giving her baby gripe water right away, it could interfere with the baby's ability to breastfeed and decrease her own breast milk supply. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have a baby who seems unusually fussy, has problems with digestion, or you suspect has colic, it is best to work with a pediatrician or doctor to try to find a solution. There may be an underlying medical condition, such as acid reflux or a food sensitivity, that can be treated. You can also try other solutions, such as cutting out common irritants out of your diet if you are a breastfeeding mother, including caffeine and dairy.

If you choose to give your baby gripe water, be sure to talk with your doctor about how to best use it and watch your baby carefully after administering for any potential side effects. It's especially important to make sure you never use gripe water as a substitute for feeding, because using it on a regular basis could lead to your baby missing out on important nutrients he or she needs to grow and develop in a healthy way. 

Sources

Adhisivam, B. (2012). Is gripe water baby-friendly? Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics3(2), 207–208. 

Jain, K., Gunasekaran, D., Venkatesh, C., & Soundararajan, P. (2015). Gripe Water Administration in Infants 1-6 months of Age-A Cross-sectional Study. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR9(11), SC06–SC08. 

Lucassen, P. (2010). Colic in infantsBMJ Clinical Evidence2010, 0309.