Is gripe water for infants effective and safe?

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Published: April 7, 2015
Last reviewed: April 27, 2017

What is gripe water?

Gripe water is a popular home remedy intended for the treatment of colic and constipation in infants. It usually contains sugar and herb extracts that supposedly soothe the stomach.

What is infant colic?

Infant colic is defined as intense crying for at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days per week for at least 3 weeks for an unknown reason in an otherwise healthy baby (5). An affected baby typically expels excessive gas and draws his or her legs toward the trunk; in most cases, symptoms resolve by the 4th or 5th month of life (5).

Ingredients

Gripe water ingredients depend on the brand and country of the production and can include:

  • Deionized water
  • Sweeteners: sugar, vegetable glycerin
  • Sodium bicarbonate, that is baking soda (in India called sarjikakshara)
  • Citrus bioflavonoid extract
  • Preservatives: bronopol, sodium methyl/propyl paraben, sodium benzoate, citric acid, potassium sorbate
  • Flavors: apple, fennel or others
  • Herb extracts or oils: aloe, Amalaki, caraway, cardamom, chamomile, dill oil, fennel, Giloy, ginger root, himsra, horsemint, Kasamarda, lemon balm, peppermint, pippali or Indian long pepper, vegetable charcoal
  • Rarely used ingredients, mostly in Europe: alcohol, phenobarbital (a sedative)
  • References: (1, producers)

Is gripe water regulated by FDA?

In the US, most gripe water products fall into the category of dietary supplements, which do not require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

On the other hand, gripe water products that are sold as over-the-counter homeopathic drugs are regulated by FDA, which means they need to meet FDA labeling requirements and need to be produced by Current Good Manufacturing Practices (11). These products can be recognized by National Drug Code (NDC) numbers on the bottles.

Gripe water homeopathic drugs, despite being regulated by FDA, are not necessary more effective than the non-regulated gripe waters, but their producers need to report all cases of side effects to FDA. Homeopathic drugs are reviewed for efficacy, toxicology, adverse effects and clinical use by the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia Convention of the United States (HPCUS) (11).

What is organic or natural gripe water made of?

The terms “natural” or “organic” on the product label may not be reliable unless the product has an “USDA organic” (in the US) or other appropriate certificate. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determines “organic product” as the one that is processed without the use of synthetic and non-agriculture substances, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge (10).

Benefits in Infants or Adults

There are some anecdotal reports that gripe water can help in colic or constipation in infants.

There is insufficient evidence (no randomized controlled clinical trials) about the effectiveness of gripe water in the prevention or treatment of colic, constipation (as a laxative), acid reflux, excessive gas, hiccups, pain during teething or other problems in infants or adults (1,5,6).

Even if gripe water works, it is not known how it works. Some researchers believe the sweetness of gripe water may have a soothing effect (6).

Safety and Dangers

Some doctors believe gripe water is safe and may cause no harm when used for the mildly upset stomach but is not appropriate for treatment of full-blown colic (7,8).

Few reports of infections after consuming gripe water:

  • According to one 2004 report, a 9-month girl developed a septic shock after getting gripe water contaminated by a bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa (2).
  • In 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a case of infection with a parasite Cryptosporidium in a 6-week old infant after consuming gripe water (3). Symptoms of an infection can appear from 2 to 10 days after contamination and can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever and can last 1 to 2 weeks (3).
  • In 2009, FDA recalled one brand of gripe water because of yeast contamination (9).

Other dangers of gripe water use:

  • Continuous use of gripe water that contains sodium bicarbonate may cause a drop of blood acidity (alkalosis) (1).

Side Effects

Possible side effects of gripe water (1):

  • Irritation of the intestine causing diarrhea
  • Allergic reactions in sensitive babies

Exclusive Breastfeeding and Gripe Water

The well-accepted rule, encouraged by World Health Organization (WHO) and many other medical authorities is that breastfed infants age 1 to 6 months should not be given any other food or fluid unless medically indicated (4).

Is gripe water safe for newborns?

Gripe water should never be given to newborns, whose immune system is not mature enough to effectively fight against eventual microbes (8).

Who should avoid gripe water?

  • Anyone allergic to any of gripe water ingredients
  • Individuals with chronic heart failure, gallstones, serious kidney problems with decreased urination, recent operation, water retention, diabetes and blood clotting disorders (12)

Is it appropriate to mix gripe water with formula?

No. Formula should be prepared exactly according to instructions and should be not diluted by any fluids. A baby that does not accept gripe water well may start to refuse a formula mixed with gripe water as well.

What is the difference between gripe water and gas drops (simethicone)?

Gripe water is intended to treat colic, while simethicone is an anti-foaming agent intended to prevent excessive bloating and gas.

23 Responses to Is gripe water for infants effective and safe?

  1. Sule Moro says:

    I just gave Auntie Mary’s baby gripe mixture to my six months baby. After a few minutes she started vomiting and she don’t even want to take food even her mother’s breast. immediately she takes, she start vomiting. And she became defenseless. Now I am afraid of my baby’s condition. should I continue giving her or not.

  2. Push Raj Shrestha says:

    My 26 days baby has been crying since last two days for unknown reason. She passes stool after every 4- 5 days. She Cry’s for 4- 5 minutes. Should I give gripe water ?

  3. Tara says:

    I just had a laproscopic cholecystectomy to remove my gal bladder and im suffering from colicy symptoms under my rib cage which is causing seriouse back pain im currently on lactulose tramadol gabapentin n buscopan but im struggling to burp and relieve gas and its becomin unbareable anyone know of any safe remedies x

    • Jan Modric says:

      Such pain can be caused by gas that has been inflated the stomach during the procedure and it should go away in few days. But you should tell this the doctor that removed the gallbladder as soon as possible, because the pain may be a sign of complication, such as a gallstone trapped in the bile duct.

  4. Maya says:

    Jo, u shpuld not give him hripe water more than 2-3 times a day, it says on the bottle of mommy’s bliss brand

  5. ifrah says:

    hello, my newborn baby is 4weeks old n I have started giving him gripe water when I see that he is uncomfortable in sleeping.can it cause any harm

  6. Amane says:

    Hello,
    I’ve been giving my son( 2months old) gripe water for colic and to make him feel comfortable and sleep. Before I bought gripe water I had read the ingredients and the box doesn’t mention that it has biocarbonate sodium. I opened the box and the bottle and I started to give him. After that I read the ingredients on the bottle and it has a sodium bicarbonate! Why they didn’t write that on the outside box! They just wrote the natural ingredients on the box!
    I am so scared when I have read the side effects of gripe water in your website.

    • Jan Modric says:

      Amane, most of side effects include some sort of irritation. If it was just a small amount of gripe water (few spoons) and if your son is OK for 24 hours after that, there’s not much reason to worry. Gripe water is not what a baby needs, so if you are concerned, just do not give it to him.

      • Jo says:

        We’ve been giving our 6 week old gripe water for just over a week, he has 5ml with every feed which is 5-6 times a day. Since having gripe water he has stopped drinking his milk, he’s gone from 24oz in 24hrs to 18-20oz in 24hrs which isn’t enough for his weight! Do you think this could be related to the gripe water?

  7. Sanni Rabiu says:

    My daughter is a month old and I’ve been giving her grape water without the doctors consent.

    • Jan Modric says:

      Sanni, a small amount of gripe water (a spoon or two) should not cause any problems. The question is why do you want to give her gripe water at all.

  8. Lee says:

    I’m recovering from a major abdominal surgery which left me with Pulmonary Embolisms. I am now on Eliquis, a blood thinner.
    My son bought this for me, but I have concerns.

  9. Harikumar.S says:

    gripe water with sodium bicarbonate may/definitely cause digestive disturbance in new born babies as even slightly higher dose may alter the baby’s gastric pH.it may hinder with the digestion of breastfed milk (the sole food for them),as digestion and absorption of milk needs acidic pH.alkaline pH definetly hampers the highly fragile gastric pH of your baby which may end in dire consequences

  10. nisha says:

    Gripe water with sodium bicarbonate is harmful for baby. It is very much mentioned on various baby care website and doctors report that Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) is an alkali (antacid) which alters the PH of stomach acid which is naturally created in baby’s stomach. However, stomach acid serves a useful purpose because it helps the body to digest food, protects the gut from infections. Disrupting the stomach’s natural acidity has led to concerns about risk for infection in babies and affects the absorption of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, B12, and iron.
    Sodium Bicarbonate can temporarily relieve some discomfort caused in case of acidic stomach. But, unfortunately, sodium bicarbonate is absorbed into the bloodstream of babies and can have unwanted/harmful side effects. As per Medline Plus, a service of the U.S National Library of Medicine, antacids (sodium bicarbonate/baking soda) should not be given to young children/babies (up to 12 years of age) unless it is prescribed by the doctors”.

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