If your baby has ever had a sore tummy, you’ll know the feeling of desperately looking for a remedy to help alleviate their discomfort. Gripe water is the go-to for some parents when their baby or toddler is suffering from colic or other gastrointestinal problems.
It was invented in the 19th century and has been soothing little ones ever since. But what's it made of, how much should you give them - and does it really work?
We've done the research for you, so you can concentrate on the matter at hand…
What is gripe water?
The ingredients in gripe water tend to vary from country to country, but the main active components have remained the same through the years.
“Gripe water has two active ingredients: sodium hydrogen carbonate which is an antacid, and the dill seed oil, which is used to reduce wind in the baby,” says Dr. Ellie Cannon, author of ‘Keep Calm: The New Mum's Manual: Trust Yourself and Enjoy Your Baby’.
Nutritional therapist Julie Clark, from spring-nutrition.co.uk, says that all gripe water products contain sodium bicarbonate, also labeled as sodium hydrogen carbonate.
“There are other ingredients added, most commonly dill oil in the original gripe water, but other products can also contain ginger and or fennel,” she says.
“You may also get some sweeteners or glucose depending on the brand. The original gripe water contained sodium hydrogen carbonate, dill oil, and alcohol.”
The NHS says if your little one is crying for more than three hours a day, three days a week for at least a week they may have colic. They may also show some of the following symptoms:
- they won't settle
- they clench their fists
- red in the face
'Gripe water (which contains dill seed oil) works by breaking down trapped gas bubbles. It can be used to treat colic in babies aged 1 month and above.' Says the NHS.
However, the NHS do say the evidence to back gripe water is questionable. 'Like simeticone, there's not much evidence that it works for colic.'
Many mums go for gripe water as a remedy for painful stomachs due to the effect of its ingredients.
“Sodium bicarbonate helps to reduce stomach acid and is often used as a natural anti-acid,” says Clark.
“Other ingredients added include herbs such as dill, fennel, ginger. These are known to assist digestion and can be calming on the tummy.”
Does it work?
Surprisingly, both Dr. Ellie and Julie are in agreement that there’s not really any scientific evidence to prove that gripe works - but despite the lack of physical evidence, many parents swear by the remedy.
“There is very little evidence to confirm that gripe water works,” says Julie.
“Overall, though, I know many mums swear by it and I’m not aware of any serious problems.”
What age can gripe water be given from, and is it suitable for newborns?
While gripe water is suitable for babies, Dr. Ellie does not recommend giving it to newborns, saying, “it’s only for use in babies who are a month or older.”
How do I give it to my baby?
Gripe water can be administered in a variety of ways.
According to Dr. Ellie, it’s important to read the label before giving gripe water to your baby, as there could be side effects if you give too much, so she advises to carefully follow the exact dosing on the bottle.
While it’s typically given through an oral syringe or dropper, you can also mix gripe water with breastmilk or formula before feeding.
Are there any side effects?
Clark says there could be a few side effects in unusual circumstances.
“The side effects – although these do seem rare – can include an allergic reaction to ingredients, especially the added herbs, or a lowering of stomach acid, which is not a good thing in the long term as the stomach provides an important role in immunity and the correct breakdown of foods,” she says.
“I think the biggest issue with these types of ‘products’ is that it is a foreign substance being introduced to a very young baby – often just a few weeks old.
Alternatives to gripe water
- Simeticone - it is a type of medicine called antiflatulent which is used to treat wind. It can be bought at pharmacies and it's taken in the form of tablets, capsules, drops and a liquid that you swallow.
- Dicycloverine - This is an antispasmodic medicine which is used to relieve stomach cramps. It helps to ease bloating and the spasm-type pain that can be associated with irritable bowel syndrome, helping your stomach to relax.
- Peppermint oil - Another treatment for IBS and nausea, this is a natural oil that helps relax the stomach.
- Colief - These drops can ease the symptoms of colic and are suitable for use from birth onwards, whether an infant is breastfed or formula-fed and they’re even suitable for premature babies to help break down the natural sugars in milk (lactose).
- Activated charcoal - this can sometimes ease trapped wind. This is ideally for children ages 1-12.
- Sodium bicarbonate - This reduces and neutralises stomach acid to help heartburn, indegestion and upset stomachs.
Where can I buy Gripe Water?
We have compiled a selection of gripe water remedies that we recommend here: