Is Gripe Water Safe for Babies?

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If you're the parent of a fussy baby, chances are, you've received a number of suggestions from other people on how to soothe and comfort your baby. If your baby has colic, friends and family members may suggest walking the baby around, going for a long drive at night, eliminating certain foods from your diet, and giving your baby gripe water.

If you haven't heard of gripe water before, it's a liquid that is touted to have calming properties for babies with upset tummies. Many moms and dads swear by gripe water's abilities. But giving your baby a supplement is not something that you should do without careful consideration. Here's a closer look at the pros and cons of gripe water.

What Is Gripe Water?

Gripe water is a common over-the-counter liquid supplement given to babies around the world who are fussy or colicky. In fact, one study found that the majority of infants in India are given gripe water in the first 6 months of life by parents or caregivers.

Depending on the brand, gripe water typically contains sodium bicarbonate as well as mixture of herbs like fennel, dill, ginger, chamomile, lemon, and peppermint. Gripe water is readily available at most grocery stores and is administered in the form of drops from the included dropper.

Previously, gripe water consisted of sugar and alcohol, sometimes in startlingly high amounts. Today, it tends to consist primarily of agave, purified water, and ginger flavor.

It's important to note that just like other herbal products, there is a lack of standardization of gripe water. So, it's important to discuss its usage with your child's doctor.

Some people confuse gripe water with over-the-counter gas drops, but they are actually two very different products. Gas drops contain the anti-foaming agent, simethicone, which is designed to break up gas bubbles in the digestive tract and allow babies to pass gas. Meanwhile, gripe water is a mixture of ingredients designed to soothe upset tummies.

Uses for Gripe Water

Gripe water is most often given to babies in the first year of life, as that is when symptoms of colic, excessive crying, or overall fussiness are most prevalent. In most cases, a caregiver or parent decides to give a baby gripe water because they believe it will help alleviate colic. But there have been no studies examining the effect of gripe water on colic.

Sometimes parents will hear an anecdotal experience from someone else that gripe water helps with teething pain, fussiness, and gassiness. Some parents have even reported that gripe water can be useful in calming babies so that they start sleeping through the night. If you are considering using gripe water, you should check with your child's pediatrician before administering the medication.

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.

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?

When it comes to giving your baby gripe water, you should always check with your baby's pediatrician before using gripe water. There are a number of factors that make gripe water a somewhat risky choice. Here is an overview of the top concerns.

Ingredients

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 instance, gripe water is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration since it is a supplement and not a medication. Therefore, it may contain ingredients that are unsafe for babies. In 2019, one brand of gripe water was recalled because it contained a harmful ingredient.

Additionally, most brands claim to be alcohol-free, but not all forms of gripe water are alcohol-free. One study found that gripe water sold in India, for example, contained alcohol. Also, gripe water containing sodium bicarbonate can lead to alkalosis and milk-alkali syndrome, if given continuously in large amounts.

In the most extreme example of just how dangerous gripe water can be, there have been at least two confirmed cases of babies becoming very sick as a direct result of gripe water. One had septic shock and another contracted a parasite after consuming gripe water.

Possible Side Effects

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.

For instance, some babies may experience an allergic reaction to gripe water including experiencing hives, itchiness, or vomiting. Gripe water may also lead to early-onset issues with developing teeth because it contains high amounts of sugar.

Nutrition

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, they might be getting full just from gripe water.

If babies drink too much gripe water, they may not be hungry for breast milk or formula. Gripe water does not have any nutritional value, so babies miss out on the key nutrition and ingredients that they need to grow and develop.

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 digestive system that may play a role in digestion and overall health. Good bacteria are 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. 

Alternatives to Gripe Water

If you have a baby who is 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 food sensitivity, that can be treated.

If your doctor has ruled out these medical issues and your baby is still extremely fussy or colicky, there are some other remedies you can try before resorting to the use of gripe water. Here are a few things that may help calm your baby:

  • Learn to swaddle your baby so they feel snug and secure
  • Cut common irritants out of your diet if you are a breastfeeding mother, including caffeine, spicy foods, and dairy
  • Ask your pediatrician for recommendations on a gentler or allergen-free formula if you are formula feeding or try a new bottle
  • Wear your baby in a sling around the house when they are fussy
  • Try using white noise or standing by a faucet with the water running
  • Rub your baby's tummy in gentle, circular motions to help move gas
  • Apply very light pressure to your baby's tummy or increase their tummy play time during the day
  • Bicycle your baby's legs to see if the movement helps move gas along
  • Take a car ride, use a baby swing, or determine if another type of movement helps calm your baby
  • Try walking or dancing with your baby to see if that alleviates the fussiness
  • Learn how to give an infant massage

A Word From Verywell

Having a colicky baby can feel overwhelming and exhausting at times, but with time, most babies outgrow their colicky tendencies. If your baby is fussy a great deal of the time, it's normal to look for solutions to ease their discomfort, especially if your doctor has ruled out larger issues like food allergies and acid reflux.

If you're considering giving your baby gripe water, talk to your doctor about how to best use it and watch your baby for any potential side effects. Also, be careful not to use gripe water in place of a feeding. Doing so could cause your baby to miss out on important nutrients they need to grow and develop.

In the meantime, make sure you give yourself adequate breaks and that you engage in self care. Having a fussy baby is hard but rest assured with time your baby will outgrow this stage and soon will be giggling instead of fussing.

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  3. Food and Drug Administration. Kingston Pharma, LLC issues voluntary recall of all lots of DG Baby Gripe Water due to undissolved ingredient, citrus flavonoid.

  4. Sas D, Enrione MA, Schwartz RH. Pseudomonas aeruginosa septic shock secondary to "gripe water" ingestion. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2004;23(2):176-7. doi:10.1097/01.inf.0000109722.53766.4f

  5. Adhisivam, B. (2012). Is gripe water baby-friendly? Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics3(2), 207–208. doi: 10.4103/0976-500X.95544

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