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 or hungry. 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. The good news is that there are ways to soothe your baby. Some parents have successfully calmed their babies with an herbal remedy called gripe water.
What Is Gripe Water?
Several over-the-counter products are marketed for relieving colic symptoms in babies. Naturally, you may be concerned about some of the ingredients in these products. If you are going to try a remedy, you want one that is safe.
Gripe water is an herbal remedy available in liquid form. 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. Gripe water is also used for teething pain and hiccups.
Is Gripe Water Safe for Babies?
There are different types of gripe water. If you’re only familiar with traditional formulas that include alcohol and sugar, you may shy away from giving this supplement to your baby. 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. 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.
Although gripe water is generally safe, it's not recommended for babies younger than 1 month. The digestive tract is sensitive and still developing at this age.
How to Give Gripe Water to a Baby
Don’t give your baby gripe water without first reading the instructions, and only give your baby the recommended dosage. 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 formula or breast milk. That’s perfectly safe, but for maximum results you should give your baby gripe water by itself.
Side Effects of Gripe Water
Gripe water is generally safe, but 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.
Other Ways to Soothe a Baby
You can also use gripe water in conjunction with other soothing techniques. For example, 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 to your baby's doctor before changing formulas.
Gently massaging your baby’s stomach may ease symptoms of colic. This soft pressure can relieve discomfort because it helps your baby burp or pass gas. Swaddling babies in a warm blanket and rocking them back and forth may also calm fussiness, as well as soothing background noise.
Make sure your baby is upright during feedings to ease gassiness. If you’re breast-feeding, 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:
Talk to your doctor before changing your diet.
You can also change up your baby’s bottle to see if you notice a difference. Choose bottles with a disposable, collapsible bag. These bottles lessen the amount of air your baby swallows and reduce gas.
Excessive crying and fussiness can be distressing for both you and your baby. Fortunately, colic symptoms typically improve by the age of 3 months, so it will get better.
While gripe water has not been shown to be a definitively effective alternative for soothing colicky babies, it is generally safe. Don’t forget to incorporate other calming techniques. If you've experimented with different home remedies, yet your baby’s condition doesn’t improve or worsens, 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 necessary, talk to 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.