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!