Parents who have experienced colic know what a trial it can be. They know the frustration of watching their baby cry and feeling powerless to do anything about it. They also know that they would have considered trying almost anything to relieve their child’s colic. They went to the doctor with high hopes that she would be able to help, but sadly there is no magic bullet that can take colic away.
Colic is a very difficult problem to diagnose. The well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears has said that colic should really be called, “my baby is in pain.” While there can be many different causes of colic, what is consistent is that your baby is uncomfortable and crying.
Many parents have discovered gripe water and hoped that this would be the cure they were looking for. They have been told by other parents, maybe even grandparents, that this is the colic remedy that cured their baby’s colic.
What is gripe water and how does it help? Gripe water is really a catch-all term for a number of home colic remedies or homeopathic remedies. What, in turn, is homeopathy? This is a field of medical study whose basic premise is that appropriate natural stimuli will cause the body to react and heal itself. Homeopathy began in Europe in the 1800s, and it has proven itself to be a very effective modality. Homeopathy has its roots in natural medicine. Most of the cures are based on combinations of plants and herbs that are found in nature.
Gripe water has been around in England since 1851 with an original formula that contained dill oil, sugar, sodium bicarbonate, water, and alcohol. These days the formulation has usually changed; while you can still buy the original, most of today’s gripe waters contain sterile water and a combination of herbs, such as peppermint, chamomile, ginger and fennel. Different formulas are not targeted at specific symptoms; they represent different practitioner’s ideas of how the formula should be made up. Because gripe water is more of a concept than a specific formula, it may be difficult to find any studies that clearly state if gripe water will work or not.
Gripe waters work by using a blend of herbs that settle the stomach and intestines. Some contain vegetable carbon, a food grade substance that traps chemicals, preventing them from being absorbed, and provides relief from gas and distention. If your brand contains vegetable carbon, and your child is taking any medications, make sure to take the medication and the gripe water an hour apart so that the vegetable carbon does not prevent the medication from being absorbed.
Most gripe waters are not regulated by the FDA. You can still find the original and many, many variations. Recently there was a recall of a popular brand because the formula contained cryptosporidium, which can cause runny diarrhea. In order to make sure that you find a formula that is safe for your baby, purchase one that is homeopathic (homeopathic remedies are regulated by the FDA) and is endorsed by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, or the HPUS.
Basic ingredients to avoid when choosing gripe water are: alcohol, citric acid, dairy, essential oils such as dill or clove, gluten, herbal extracts, sodium bicarbonate, soy, and sugar.
The safe ingredients to look for include aloe, blackthorn, caraway, chamomile, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, peppermint, and vegetable carbon.
Does gripe water work? Yes and no. If your baby is colicky is because he or she has excess gas or an upset stomach, then it may help. If it does not bring colic relief, then it would be beneficial to look deeper into the possible cause of the gas or stomach discomfort. Remember, gripe water does not cure colic; it is a temporary band-aid for the problem. Stopping your baby’s colic usually requires some research and trial and error using different techniques and strategies.