Is gripe water safe to use for my baby?
Can you give gripe water to a baby? If so, how do you do it – and when? And does it work for colic, teething and crying? Our expert family GP has the answers
Little babies often cry – and sometimes this seems to be down to gas or trapped wind or tummy problems or even colic. And gripe water is one of the products often said to be just the thing to bring some soothing relief. But does it really work? And is it a safe remedy to use, even on a newborn baby?
Here's what you need to know about using gripe water for newborns and babies...
Is gripe water safe for newborns?
Generally, gripe water should not be given to a baby who is less than 1 month old. There are various different brands of grips water available, so always be sure to check the instructions and see what the age restrictions are.
Regardless of the age of your baby, you should avoid any gripe-water preparation that contains alcohol or sugar.
And you should also not use gripe water if your child:
- is allergic to any of the ingredients
- suffers from kidney problems
At what age can a baby have gripe water?
It is recommended that babies under the age of 6 months old are not given anything other than breast milk or formula milk¹. But some gripe-water preparations state they are suitable for treating colic in a baby over the age of 1 month.
What is gripe water? What's in it?
Gripe water is a mixture containing dill seed oil. It was first made in the 1850s by an English pharmacist William Woodward who used it for treating "fen fever". The mixture was soon adopted by doctors for soothing fretful babies.
Woodward's original mix combined dill seed oil with alcohol, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and water.
Today, Woodward's Gripe Water no longer contains alcohol or sugar but mainly just bicarbonate of soda and dill seed oil. Other brands of gripe water may contain additional ingredients, such as camomile or peppermint.
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What do you use gripe water for? Does it work?
Gripe water is often used to ease trapped wind and colic. The theory is that it breaks down the trapped air bubbles that cause wind and which many believed to be the cause of colic.
However, the cause of actually colic not known – and there is no evidence to suggest that gripe water is effective or makes a significant difference to colic. One study of 355 babies in India² , in fact, suggests that, although almost two-thirds of parents in the study were giving gripe water to their baby, it didn't seem to have any effect on their colic – and in some cases may have been associated with constipation.
Does gripe water have any side effects?
It doesn't have any known side effects but, if your baby gets any unusual symptoms while taking gripe water, take them to see your GP as soon as possible.
How do I give gripe water to my baby?
It's usually administered with a dropper. If you do decided to give gripe water to your baby (and they are over 1 month old), then first follow the directions on the box/bottle to make sure you understand what the correct dose is.
Then simple fill the dropper up with the recommended dose of gripe water (as directed on the packet), and let your baby suck it out or you can squeeze it into their mouth or put it into their formula or expressed breastmilk if you are bottle-feeding.
When should I give gripe water to my baby?
As there isn't any clear evidence that gripe water is effective, there isn’t a 'should' as such. However, if you do give gripe water to your baby, some brands recommend giving it 30 minutes after a feed.
Can I put gripe water in formula milk?
Depending on the brand, you may be able to mix with formula or expressed breast milk. Again, check the specific instructions on the brand of gripe water you buy.
Can I put gripe water on a dummy?
Putting gripe water on a dummy means that you will not know if the baby has taken the dosage suggested by the manufacturer. Instead, it's better to follow the instructions on the box.
Is Woodward's the only type of gripe water?
No, there are various brands of gripe water available to buy in pharmacies. Always check with a pharmacist that the gripe water you choose is suitable for babies and doesn't include alcohol or sugar.
Is gripe water different to Colief, Infacol and other anti-gas remedies?
Yes, gripe water is different to other anti-colic remedies.
Infacol and other brands such as Dentinox Colic Drios contain simeticone, which is thought to work by combining small gas bubbles together into larger bubbles, which are easier to pass by burping or farting. It is not absorbed into the body, but there is little evidence that it is effective at treating colic.
Colief is a different medication which aims to break down lactose in the milk, in case a temporary lactose intolerance is causing symptoms.
Please note that medications aimed to help bloating and indigestion in adults should not be given to babies.
What else can I try to help with colic?
Although colic does tend to resolve itself on its own, often at around 4 months, it can be extremely distressing as a parent. I know that 4 months can feel like an eternity when you have a crying and distressed 3-week-old in your arms!
Some things that can help include:
- Taking turns holding your baby or, if you are on your own, putting the baby down somewhere safe for a few minutes to look after your own needs.
- Rocking or walking while you're holding your baby – babies seem to like gentle motion.
- A warm bath for your baby can also help.
- Massaging your baby's tummy in a clockwise direction.
- Feeding your baby in an upright position and winding them carefully afterwards
You may hear about other other remedies, including cranial osteopathy, herbal supplements and, if you are breastfeeding, changing your diet. There is little evidence for the effectiveness of any of these – and you should not change your diet or take herbal remedies if you are breastfeeding without discussing it through with a doctor first.
As always, if you are concerned about your baby's health please seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
Last reviewed: July 2023. Please note: Dr Philippa does not specifically recommend or endorse any brand of over-the-counter medicine. This advice is not personalised or meant to replace individual advice given to you by your doctor or medical team.
1. Evidence for the ten steps to successful breastfeeding. Geneva: World Health Organization/CHD/98.9; 1998. pp. 48–61
2. Jain K, Gunasekaran D, Venkatesh C, Soundararajan P. Gripe Water Administration in Infants 1-6 months of Age-A Cross-sectional Study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Nov;9(11):SC06-8. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2015/13727.6738. Epub 2015 Nov 1. PMID: 26673749; PMCID: PMC4668494.
Pic: Getty Images
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