Crying is a baby’s main form of communication.
Nobody can recognize your baby’s cries better than you, so you may instantly know if your baby is sleepy, hungry, or needs to be cuddled.
Although crying is normal, your baby may sometimes cry excessively despite being well-fed and changed. This can indicate another problem, such as teething or colic.
A colicky baby may cry for several hours on any given day. Though it is not known what causes colic, some feel it is due to abdominal discomfort caused by gassiness.
Research suggests up to 28 percent of infants worldwide experience colic in the first few months of life. It’s more common in infants under 6 weeks, and it becomes less common as the child turns 10 to 12 weeks.
By about age 4 months, most infants spontaneously outgrow colic.
Still, excessive crying and fussiness can be difficult on the infant-family relationship. Parents may seek out a solution because they worry they’re not properly caring for their child.
The good news is that there are ways to soothe your baby. Some parents believe they have successfully calmed their babies with an herbal remedy called gripe water. But gripe water carries the risk for some side effects and safety concerns.
Here, we’ll discuss what gripe water is and if it’s safe. We’ll also discuss alternatives to gripe water for colicky babies.
Several over-the-counter products are marketed for relieving colic symptoms in babies. Naturally, you may be concerned about some ingredients in these products.
If you are going to try a remedy, you want one that is safe.
Gripe water is an herbal supplement available in liquid form. It is sold in pharmacies, health food stores, and grocery stores. Gripe water is marketed to parents as a treatment to ease gas, colic, and other baby ailments.
There are many variations, but most formulas contain a mixture of different herbs, including:
- lemon balm
A baby is more likely to experience stomach discomfort when unable to pass gas.
Some babies cry for several hours over days or weeks. Since the herbs in gripe water theoretically help with digestion, this remedy is thought to help with colic caused by gassiness. However, most of this research is from adults, not infants.
Some gripe waters also use sugar and flavoring agents to make the supplement more palatable. Some may even contain alcohol.
Gripe water is sometimes also used for teething pain and hiccups.
Gripe water is considered a dietary supplement, not a medication, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This means it does not need prior approval from the FDA before it’s marketed and sold to parents.
In other words, these products are considered safe until they are proven unsafe, unlike prescription medications which undergo rigorous testing before they can be sold to consumers. The FDA has recalled certain formulations of infant gripe water because they contain alcohol, which is not safe for babies.
The benefits of gripe water are largely unproven. One study found that
Support for gripe water largely comes from anecdotal reports of parents. Due to a lack of standardization and regulation, many professional medical associations do not recommend parents use gripe water.
To better understand why gripe water may not be a good option for your infant, it helps to understand what’s in gripe water.
There are different types of gripe water. Some traditional formulas include alcohol and sugar. Too much sugar can increase the risk of tooth decay, and it may affect your baby’s feeding habits.
Understand, however, that while some formulas of gripe water include alcohol, sugar, and artificial flavors, these ingredients aren’t included in all formulas. If you’re going to use gripe water, it’s important to only use gripe water that’s designed specifically for babies.
Make sure you read the ingredients listed on the package. Some forms of gripe water also contain sodium bicarbonate and peppermint.
Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, shouldn’t be given to colicky babies unless prescribed by a doctor. Sodium bicarbonate can interfere with the natural pH level in your baby’s stomach. This can cause too much alkalinity and worsen colic symptoms.
Watch out for gripe water containing peppermint. It could potentially worsen a baby’s reflux symptoms. You should also avoid gripe water containing gluten, dairy, parabens, and vegetable carbon.
Gripe water is not recommended for babies younger than 1 month. The digestive tract is sensitive and still developing at this age.
Most pediatricians will advise parents to try other methods of soothing a colicky baby before giving them gripe water. The benefits often do not outweigh the potential risks, and gripe water is likely not effective as a treatment.
Don’t give your baby gripe water without first reading the instructions, and only give your baby the recommended dosage. Confirm this dosage with your baby’s healthcare professional.
If your baby suffers from colic, the pain may come in waves and worsen after each feeding. You can give gripe water immediately after feedings to help your baby avoid gas pain.
Gripe water typically has a pleasant taste, so some babies don’t mind taking a dose. You might be tempted to mix gripe water with your baby’s breast milk or formula. That’s probably safe, but for maximum results, you should give your baby gripe water by itself.
Place the medicine dropper straight into your baby’s mouth. Slowly press the dropper against the inside of the cheek. Allow them to swallow it a bit at a time before giving them more.
Gripe water is probably safe, but there are safer alternatives. If you do give your infant gripe water, it’s important to keep an open eye for signs of an allergic reaction. Allergy symptoms can vary.
After giving gripe water to your baby, check for:
- watery eyes
- swelling of the lips or tongue
- a change in breathing
If you suspect an allergic reaction, discontinue use and contact your doctor immediately.
Do not give more than the recommended dose in a 24-hour period. If your child is not responding to the gripe water, stop giving it to them.
You can also use gripe water with other soothing techniques.
Try a variety of these colic remedies during a baby’s colicky hours to find what soothes them best. While they may not work all the time, they’re not costly and have few risks.
Swaddling babies in a warm blanket and rocking them back and forth may calm fussiness. Soothing background noises, including calming music or white noise, can help.
Wearing babies under 6 months in a chest-to-chest carrier can often calm them, as can going for a walk outside in a baby carrier or stroller. The change of scenery can be calming for parents and infants. A brief car ride may soothe your baby, too.
A warm bath can have a calming effect. A few minutes in a baby swing can calm a colicky baby, too.
If these things don’t work, consider feeding changes.
If you’re breastfeeding, removing certain foods from your diet might also reduce fussiness in your baby, though studies do not show a definite link.
Foods to eliminate from your diet can include:
- peanuts and tree nuts
Talk to your healthcare professional before changing your diet.
Make sure your baby is upright during feedings to ease gassiness. If you feed your baby from a bottle, be sure to stop feeding as soon as the bottle is empty, so your baby doesn’t swallow air from their bottle.
You can also change up your baby’s bottle to see if you notice a difference. Try a bottle with an “anti-colic” insert, a curved bottle, or a bottle with a disposable, collapsible bag. Any of these bottles can lessen the amount of air your baby swallows and reduce gas.
Frequent burping may help reduce swallowed air, too. Stop a few times during the feeding and help your child to burp with gentle pats on the back.
Colic symptoms occasionally may be caused by a particular formula. Some babies are more sensitive to formulas containing cow’s milk.
Switching to a soy-based formula may soothe their stomachs and reduce symptoms, though this has only been shown in a few small studies. Talk with your baby’s doctor before changing formulas.
Excessive crying and fussiness can be distressing for both you and your baby. Fortunately, colic symptoms typically improve by ages 3 to 4 months.
While gripe water has not been shown to be an effective alternative for soothing colicky babies, it is probably safe. Talk with your baby’s medical professional first, follow dosing instructions, and read the ingredients carefully.
Don’t forget to incorporate other soothing techniques. If you’ve experimented with different home remedies, but your baby’s condition worsens or doesn’t improve, make an appointment with your doctor. Excessive crying may be due to another problem.
If your baby has colic, getting through the next weeks or months can be tough. Just know that it’s OK to ask for help, especially if you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry.
If possible, talk with your partner and come up with a plan that allows you to split newborn duties. If you need a break, ask a trusted adult to care for your baby for a couple of hours.