Gripe Water Is a Saving Grace for New Parents—But Is It Safe?

Gripe water is a homeopathic remedy touted to relieve gas, colic, and stomach problems in babies. Learn more about the safety and effectiveness of this liquid supplement, as well as the typical gripe water ingredients.

Baby having gripe water from syringe

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Infant care has come a long way since the 19th century, yet some parents still swear by a homeopathic remedy developed in the 1850s: gripe water. Readily available over-the-counter at pharmacies and grocery stores, gripe water claims to relieve gas, stomach pain, and colic (excessive crying) in babies. Some parents also claim the product helps with reflux, hiccups, and teething discomfort.

But does gripe water actually work? What are the most common gripe water ingredients? And most importantly, is the liquid supplement safe for babies? We spoke with the experts to find out more.

What is Gripe Water?

Gripe water is a homeopathic remedy touted to relieve gas, colic, and stomach problems in babies. A pharmacist named William Woodward formulated the original gripe water in 1851, based on a popular malaria treatment that was incidentally found to soothe fussy babies. Woodward's formula— made from alcohol, sodium bicarbonate, dill seed oil, sugar, and water—was widely embraced and praised as a miracle cure.

Alcoholic gripe water was banned in the United States in 1982, but allowed back onto the market with an updated, alcohol-free formula. Still, gripe water is not approved or regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as it's now classified as a dietary supplement—not medicine.

You can still buy Woodward's gripe water online and in stores across the U.S., along with numerous other brands including Mommy's Bliss, Little Remedies, and Colic Calm.

Gripe Water Ingredients

Gripe water ingredients vary by manufacturer and by country of production, so it's important to closely read labels. According to Sanghamitra M. Misra, M.D., M.Ed., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Section on Integrative Medicine, gripe water may include a combination of herbs such as these:

  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Chamomile
  • Dill
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon balm

Gripe water may also contain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Note that some formulations contain alcohol, but those currently sold in the United States do not have any.

Does Gripe Water Work for Babies and Children?

While the internet is full of bloggers eager to share their praise for gripe water, there's little scientific evidence to back up their claims. In fact, one of the only official studies surrounding gripe water, conducted in India in 2015, found that gripe water does not help colic and may also cause vomiting and constipation. Another study found that gripe water might possibly calm babies because of its sweet taste—and not because of the actual ingredients (the research also noted the sweetness could have a negative effect on a baby's developing teeth).

Like many medical professionals, Kevin Dazy, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Michigan, doesn't have an easy answer on whether or not gripe water works. "The answer to that question is 'maybe,'" he says. "While there have not been any studies that have shown definitive proof that it works, it may help some babies. As always, it is recommended to talk to your pediatrician before starting any over-the-counter supplements to assess for other causes for your baby's fussiness."

Is Gripe Water Safe?

Due to the uncertainty of modern gripe water formulas, many medical professionals are hesitant to recommend its use with babies and children. "Although the herbs themselves are safe for infants if they are not allergic to them, because the FDA does not regulate supplements, there is no guarantee of the purity of any gripe water product," says Dr. Misra. "There have been rare reports of infants becoming ill from bacteria that was present in gripe water."

Because it's not under the jurisdiction of the FDA, manufacturers can sell their product with zero safety or quality testing. Formulas that contain alcohol and sugar, which can still be found outside of the United States, can be particularly dangerous for infants.

Also keep an eye out for other potential allergens on the ingredients list, says Dr. Misra. "Gripe water may also contain extra ingredients—gluten, dairy, sucrose, parabens, etc.—which can result in an allergic reaction if a child is allergic." Call your child's pediatrician if you suspect an allergic reaction.

Should You Give Gripe Water to Your Baby?

Every caregiver will likely experience that desperate feeling of being unable to soothe their child—and being willing to try almost anything to make the crying stop. Given the long-lasting popularity and global recognition of gripe water, not to mention its affordability and accessibility, it's no surprise that many still turn to it despite the lack of official medical approval. But is gripe water the right choice for your baby?

As with any medical concerns, talk to your pediatrician first. If they are comfortable with the use of gripe water, they may have a specific brand to suggest as well as best practices to recommend. And if not, they may have some alternative suggestions to ease your baby's discomfort.

If you decide to try gripe water, always read the manufacturer's instructions on dosing, timing, and usage. Most gripe waters include a dropper or syringe for getting it into your baby's mouth. Some brands recommend waiting until your baby is at least 1 month old before using gripe water.

Alternatives to Using Gripe Water

There are many ways to soothe your fussy baby that don't involve unproven homeopathic recipes. Here are some alternatives to gripe water that may comfort your little one:

  • Try Dr. Harvey Karp's research-proven "Five S's" strategy to mimic the comfort of the womb: Swaddle, Side or Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, and Suck. Note that you should never place a baby to sleep on their side or stomach; only put them in this position if you're holding them.
  • Massage your baby's tummy, burp them, and pump their legs to relieve any built-up gas.
  • Eliminate gas-causing foods from your diet if breastfeeding, including dairy, cruciferous veggies, and beans. Consult with a health care provider before eliminating the foods.
  • If formula-feeding, try switching to a new brand of formula to eliminate gassiness. You can also try a different bottle (like one with an anti-colic insert) or a different nipple to adjust the milk flow. Keep your little one upright during feedings.

"Gripe water is simply one of the tools in the toolbox for an irritated and fussy infant where colic or gas may be contributing," says Dr. Dazy. "Your baby's pediatrician will be happy to see you and your baby to assess what other treatments and recommendations will benefit your baby before starting gripe water."

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  1. Gripe Water Administration in Infants 1-6 months of Age-A Cross-sectional Study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015.

  2. Is gripe water baby-friendly? J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012.

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