What’s the Deal With Gripe Water?

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What Is Gripe Water, And Will It Soothe My Fussy Baby?
Photo by Laura Garcia from Pexels

There exist certain things that you will never hear of in life until you’re expecting a child or become a parent. Like what to do with baby hiccups, figuring out whether your baby has jaundice, and how to deal with colic. Another one of those? Gripe water. If you’re here, that means you’re probably on the baby track and undoubtedly thinking, What is gripe water?

Is it some weird grape-juice hybrid made just for babies? It’s possible you already have a little one, they suffer from colic, and someone casually told you to grab some gripe water — not realizing you have no idea what that is. Well, Mama, we’ve got you covered. Welcome to Gripe Water 101.

What is gripe water?

Gripe water is an over-the-counter herbal supplement that comes in liquid form. It was first developed way back in 1851 from a formula used to treat malaria. At the time, it contained a mixture of sugar, sodium bicarbonate, and nearly four percent alcohol (yes, you read that right). Not surprisingly, the results were mixed for babies and newborns — not to mention giving a child that much alcohol was eventually outlawed.

Although the ingredients vary by brand, today’s gripe water generally contains some combination of fennel, ginger, chamomile, cardamom, licorice, cinnamon, and lemon balm. Some versions still have sodium bicarbonate, and others also add in peppermint.

What is it used for?

Because babies’ internal organs are still developing, they sometimes have trouble with gas buildup. If they can’t relieve that pressure on their own, it naturally leads to discomfort and, sadly, a lot of crying. If your baby cries more than three hours a day three or more times a week, they may have colic. Either way, gripe water is thought to help ease a baby’s discomfort since the herbs used to make it help with digestion. It goes without saying that you should always consult with your baby’s pediatrician before giving any new supplements or medication. Including gripe water.

Is it safe for babies?

It merits mentioning upfront that gripe water is classified as a supplement and not a medication. What does that mean? It’s not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In other words, there’s no guarantee that the label on the gripe water bottle you buy will match the ingredients inside.

Also, since there are so many different gripe waters out there, it’s pretty much impossible to issue a one-size-fits-all “yes, it’s safe” declaration. For example, some gripe water is still made with alcohol. Others are made with high levels of sucrose which, while not dangerous, can cause tooth decay. If the gripe water you choose has sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, you should be aware that it can interfere with the natural pH level in your baby’s stomach (which can ultimately make colic worse). And gripe waters containing peppermint can aggravate a baby’s reflux.

Having said all of that, gripe water — especially the trusted over-the-counter varieties — are generally considered safe for babies and newborns. Always, always consult your child’s pediatrician before giving any sort of supplement to your baby, though.

Are there any possible side effects?

Anytime you introduce something new that your baby is going to ingest, you should be on the lookout for any signs of an allergic reaction. This may include hives, itchiness, watery eyes, swelling of the lips or tongue, vomiting, or a change in breathing. Notify your pedestrian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms and ask what course of action should be taken next.

Does gripe water work?

This is one of those questions that can yield wildly different answers depending on who you ask. No, there isn’t a study we can point you to that proves gripe water does help ease a child’s discomfort from colic or gas build-up. But many (many, many) moms swear by it. I personally used it with my daughter, and I’m convinced it got the job done. But I know other moms who didn’t see a change in their child’s discomfort with gripe water, and others who considered it a modern-day “snake oil” not fit for consumption.

If your child is consistently fussy, you’re probably willing to give just about anything a try right now. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to get the green light before you see if gripe water helps soothe your little one.

How do you give a baby gripe water?

If you buy an over-the-counter boxed brand, make sure you read the instructions carefully — they can differ from brand to brand. Other than that, the box should give you clear details about how to administer gripe water to your child. The bottles usually come with their own little droppers or syringe for easy use. As you may have guessed from the ingredient list, gripe water can have a strong flavor that isn’t pleasing to babies. Should your little one decide they don’t like it, you can try mixing it with breast milk or formula. However, it’s considered most effective on its own.

To administer, it’s first important to note that you should never give liquids to a crying baby. Hold your baby upright and insert the syringe against the inside corner of your baby’s cheek. Administer slowly, allowing your baby to swallow after each application.

Watch for allergies when introducing any new foods or medication to a baby, if your baby develops hives, turns red, or acts fussy, immediately call your pediatrician for a consult.

Can I make my own gripe water?

Yes, you can! Fennel water, a type of gripe water, has been used for centuries to ease the discomfort of colic in babies caused by gas and constipation. You should always consult your child’s doctor, however, before you give anything new to a newborn and always be on alert for allergies. That said, you can boil some fennel seeds over a slow simmer for 10 minutes and let cool to room temperature. Strain all the seeds and follow the same procedure as gripe water when giving to the baby.

What else can I do to soothe my fussy baby?

Maybe after reading all of this, you’re simply not comfortable using gripe water to relieve your baby’s discomfort. That’s okay — we all have to make the choices that feel right to us as parents. Here are a few other ideas for calming your cutie-pie’s cries:

  • Ask about anti-gas drops: These are designed to break up gas bubbles but, as always, you should consult your child’s pediatrician before trying them.
  • Check their diet: If you’re breastfeeding, you may actually have to look into your diet. Cut out foods and beverages that are common gas culprits, like caffeine and dairy, to see if they could be contributing to your baby’s discomfort. Other foods that some moms have reported causing gas through breast milk are kale, spinach, beans, onions, garlic, peppers or spicy foods. If your baby has started on formula, you may need to switch brands to find one that doesn’t upset your tiny human’s tummy.
  • Do the baby bicycle: Lay your little one down on their back on a soft, flat surface. Then, move their legs around in a bicycle motion. The theory here is that this could break up gas bubbles that are creating a pressure build-up.
  • Try a massage: Just like a massage relaxes adults, it can relax baby, too. Bonus? It’s great for bonding! If you don’t fancy yourself a DIY masseuse, simply apply gentle tummy pressure. You can do this by rubbing baby’s belly or doing a little tummy time.
  • Master the swaddle: The premise here is two-fold. No. 1, swaddling is thought to comfort baby because it recreates the snuggly sensation of the womb. No. 2, a tight swaddle applies gentle pressure that could break up gas bubbles.

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