Gripe Water vs. Gas Drops: Which Is Best for My Child?

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, MD on December 6, 2016Written by Rachel Nall on December 6, 2016

What is colic?

Colic is a condition that causes babies to cry for hours at a time with no clear cause. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 20 percent of babies will develop colic. Babies with colic will usually begin crying at roughly the same time every day, often in the later afternoon or evening. The “colic cry” typically has a distinct sound that’s high-pitched.

Colic can occur in normal, healthy babies. The condition most often starts when a baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old. The condition tends to subside at 3 to 4 months. Although colic doesn’t last a long time in terms of weeks, it may feel like an endless amount of time for the baby’s caregivers.

Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes colic. It was long thought to be caused by gas or stomach upset, but this has not been proven. One potential reason for this belief is that when babies cry, they tense their stomach muscles and may swallow more air, making them appear to have gas or stomach pain. This is why most treatments are based around relieving gas. Unfortunately, no remedy has been proven to reduce a baby’s colic symptoms. However, some parents use gripe water or gas drops to treat colic. Which is best for your baby?

Gripe water explained

gripe water

Gripe water is an alternative medicine that some people use to try to reduce a baby’s colic symptoms. The liquid is a mixture of water and herbs, which can vary based on the manufacturer. However, two common components are dill seed oil and sodium bicarbonate. Many years ago, some manufacturers added sugars or alcohol to gripe water.

Most contemporary formulations are alcohol-free as well as sugar-free.

The components of gripe water are intended to have a soothing effect on baby’s tummy. As a result, they’re less likely to experience stomach upset and cry inconsolably.

Gripe water can have side effects, especially if a parent gives a baby too much. The sodium bicarbonate content could cause a condition called alkalosis where the blood becomes too “basic” instead of acidic. Also, improperly stored gripe water can attract bacteria or fungi. Always store in a cool, dry location and replace gripe water on or before the manufacturer’s suggested date.

Gas drops explained

gas drops

Gas drops are a medical treatment. Their chief active ingredient is simethicone, an ingredient that breaks up gas bubbles in the stomach. This makes gas easier to pass. Examples of available gas drops for babies include Little Tummys Gas Relief Drops, Phazyme, and Mylicon. The drops can be mixed in water, formula, or breast milk and given to baby.

Gas drops are generally considered safe for use in babies unless a baby is being given thyroid hormone medications. Thyroid medications can adversely interact with gas drops.

Choosing between gripe water and gas drops

Choosing between gripe water and gas drops can be difficult because neither treatment has been proven to treat colic. Also, introducing any new medication to your baby could cause an allergic reaction.

It can be very baby-specific if a little one’s colic will get better with gripe water or gas drops.

One way to determine what may help most is to think about baby’s colic symptoms. If your baby’s stomach seems firm and they constantly draw their legs toward their stomach to relieve built-up gas, then gas drops may be a better option. If your baby seems to respond more to soothing techniques, gripe water may be the preferred treatment choice. However, there is no evidence that one or the other will work in either case.

When to call a doctor

While colic is a normal occurrence and usually not cause for concern, there are some situations where you may need to seek medical attention. These include:

  • if your baby experienced a fall or injury earlier in the day and is crying inconsolably
  • if your baby’s lips or skin have a bluish cast to them, which can indicate they aren’t getting enough oxygen
  • if you’re concerned that your baby’s colic is getting worse or that the colic is affecting your baby’s well-being
  • your baby’s bowel movement patterns have changed and they haven’t had a bowel movement in longer than usual or if they have blood in their stool
  • your baby has a temperature that’s higher than 100.4˚F (38˚C)
  • if you feel overwhelmed or helpless in soothing your baby’s colic

Outlook on colic treatment

In addition to using gripe water or gas drops to treat colic, there are other steps you can take at home to treat your baby’s symptoms.

Though food sensitivities are rare in infants, some moms report that reducing their intake of certain foods while breast-feeding helps with symptoms of colic. These include milk, cabbage, onions, beans, and caffeine. Talk to your doctor before going on any strict elimination diet.

Try switching your baby’s bottle to a slow-flow bottle to keep too much formula or milk from entering the mouth at once. Choosing bottles that minimize air can also reduce stomach discomfort.

Offer your baby a pacifier, which can help to soothe them.

Take steps to soothe your baby, such as swaddling, rocking, or swinging.

Hold your baby upright when you feed them. This helps to minimize gas.

Choose smaller, more frequent feedings to keep your baby’s tummy from filling up too much.

Remember that colic is temporary. It will go away in a few weeks, and you will have more peace and quiet as well as a happier baby at that time.

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