If you’ve lived in India while growing up, you’re likely to be familiar with the ad for Woodward’s Gripe Water. In the ad, a mother of each generation claims to have soothed her baby’s colic and crying with gripe water – right from a great great grandmother to the mother of the currently crying baby ends up swearing by gripe water!
Before my baby was born, we used to see Moms in our pediatric ward complaining that their babies continued crying even after being fed gripe water. Despite it’s huge popularity, the senior pediatricians in our unit used to constantly advice us against recommending gripe water for babies. I have stood by that advice and have never given gripe water to either of my kids. So this brings us to the question:
Is Gripe Water REALLY safe for babies?
What is Gripe Water?
Gripe water was invented by William Woodward, a pharmacist who lived in England in the 1800s. At that time, many babies from the marshy areas were affected by a disease called ‘fen fever’ due to water stagnation in the marshes and resultant mosquitoes. This illness was treated by a concoction made by a group of doctors, from which Woodward was inspired to create gripe water. He soon found that it treated not just fen fever, but helped to soothe crying babies and provided relief for gastric troubles. He soon patented the name and before you know it, gripe water became a household word.
Contents of Gripe Water
So what does this ‘magical’ potion contain? Woodward’s gripe water contained a combination of dill seed oil, sodium bicarbonate and alcohol. The alcohol, especially, is considered to play the chief role in soothing babies. These days however, most brands of gripe water no longer include alcohol. Instead a very high sugar content is present, and the sweetness is expected to calm the infant. In India, gripe water companies may also include several herbs and oils, claiming to have special properties to soothe babies.
How does gripe water help relieve colic?
There is very little scientific evidence to prove the efficiency of gripe water, although the ill effects of its ingredients are documented. The efficacy of gripe water may be attributed to the following causes:
1. Alcohol – Alcohol was considered to be the main reason behind the soothing effects of gripe water. Back in the old days, the alcohol content was so high that even adults were known to get addicted.
2. Sugar – Gripe water can be very high in sugar, and studies have shown that sugar solutions may be effective in soothing colic. However, the high sugar content can damage the baby’s erupting teeth.
3. Dill Oil – The word ‘dill’ is derived from the Norwegian word for ‘to lull’. Dill oil has been found to ease pain caused by excessive gas in the intestines.
Although gripe water’s ingredient list often features sodium bicarbonate, it doesn’t have much of an effect in curing colic. On the other hand, excessive sodium bicarbonate may result in alkalosis.
Safe Ways of Dealing with Colic in Babies
Now that you know what gripe water actually contains, you must be wondering how new parents are supposed to deal with an incessantly crying baby. Few things can make one feel as helpless! But there is actually a lot you can do, none of which involve questionable ingredients or chemicals.
1. Offer physical comfort
There are many ways you can soothe your baby’s discomfort, simply by holding him in different ways. Try holding them horizontally in your arms, upright against your shoulder or on their tummies balanced on your arm.
2. Adjust feeding positions
Most of the time, colic is just due to gassiness resulting from a lot of swallowed air. When feeding, try to keep baby as upright as possible. Smaller, frequent feedings may be easier on his tummy. When breastfeeding, let the baby drain one breast completely first. This will ensure that he gets the thicker, fatty hindmilk along with the thin foremilk, keeping him fuller for longer. Be sure to burp him at regular intervals during feeding and soon after.
3. Use the correct burping technique
It is important to burp the baby properly so that all the trapped air is released. Place a burp cloth on your shoulder and hold your baby upright against it. Gently, rub their lower back in a circular motion or tap gently till they burp. You’ll hear a burping sound, and in some cases, they may spit out a little milk.
4. Use slow, repetitive movements
Slow, rhythmic movements tend to soothe babies, which is why so many cots and cradles have swinging or rocking mechanisms. You can either take the baby on a car drive, or push her around your house in her pram for a while. Gently rocking her in your arms should also work, unless you are getting agitated as well. Some babies seem to get soothed when held on top of a washing machine on a gentle cycle.
5. Limit stimulating environments
During the first few months, babies need a lot of peace, love and reassurance. Too much stimulation can upset them, especially if they’re constantly passed around from one person to another or put down and picked up a lot. Make sure that he is dry, well fed and well rested all the time. Avoid loud noises and stick to white noise – it has been found to work for many babies.
Just because something is being done by a majority of people doesn’t make it right! Even though doctors these days refrain from prescribing gripe water, they often get requests for it. The WHO doesn’t advice anything for a baby other than breast milk for the first six months – not even gripe water. So, educate yourself about the ingredients in what you’re feeding your child – better safe than sorry!
This is really helpful. Thanks for such informative content.
Dr Hemapriya says
Thank you for your appreciation, we are glad it was helpful
Neetu Parashar says
Such a great product for new born babies.. and very helpful for babies colic pain ..I am very. Happy
Dr Hemapriya says
Thanks a lot for your lovely words of appreciation Neetu 🙂
So what do you recommend going to the baby in case it’s gastric?
Below the article, there are few tips. Click on link for more tips to deal with indigestion in babies. Please use according to baby’s age.
Link – https://goo.gl/ebEsPC
Very nice article .i have been advised by so many people to use gripe water even by my Mom .but my baby doctor always told me not to use this and I followed his advise and never used gripe water.
Dr Hemapriya says
I am glad you enjoyed read this one. Happy Parenting!
my son is 5 month old baby. can i give gribe water? and then what kind of food given to him
Dr Hemapriya says
I don’t advice Gripe water for babies
Rashmi P says
Recently I came across an article saying that the Gripe Water contains Preservatives like Bronopol, Sodium Methylparaben, Sodim Propylparaben, Sodium Benzoate etc.
Are these safe for babies when long term effects are considered? Bronopol is said to be carcinogenic. Is it true?
I have been giving the gripe water to my baby since he was 4 months old as insisted by in-laws & continued for 3- 4 months thereafter.
My son has just completed his 1st b’day a few days ago I would like to give him vegetable juice. So please do send me some recipes
My son has completed his first b’day a couple of weeks ago. I would like to gi
The prime soothing agent in “Gripe Water” is sodium bicarbonate(NaHCo3) commonly, referred to as “baking soda”.
This neutralises the natural stomach acids and thereby, neutralises the natural gastro infection barrier. Also affects the gut mucosal layer.
In a way has similar effects as popular anti-acid, Fruit salts available. As physicians do not recommend their regular usage, Gripe water use is also not recommended.
Arpita bhatt says
Gripe water with sodium bicarbonate is harmful for baby. It is very much mentioned on various baby care website and doctors report that Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) is an alkali (antacid) which alters the PH of stomach acid which is naturally created in baby’s stomach. As per Medline Plus, a service of the U.S National Library of Medicine, antacids (sodium bicarbonate/baking soda) should not be given to young children/babies (up to 12 years of age) unless it is prescribed by the doctors”.
Sodium Bicarbonate can temporarily relieve some discomfort caused in case of acidic stomach. But, unfortunately, sodium bicarbonate is absorbed into the bloodstream of babies and can have unwanted/harmful side effects.
Mother Sparsh is only product in india free from all such harmful ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, parabens, gluten, alcohol . Result is bit late but it require regular intake. one thing results are good and stable. it is ayurvedic medicine as mentioned on the bottle.
Arpita bhatt says
As per Medline Plus, a service of the U.S National Library of Medicine, antacids (sodium bicarbonate/baking soda) should not be given to young children/babies (up to 12 years of age) unless it is prescribed by the doctors”.
Mother sparsh gripe water is good product free from sodium bicarbonate and parabens. i like it and it suits to my baby.
kujubi singha says
shall i then continue giving to my baby? i have been givig it since he was 10 days old as prescribed by elders. Now my child is 1 and half year old.
Dr Hemapriya says
You can stop now, as the baby has grown and he will not face the indigestion problem again