by Pat Bratianu, RN Ph.D. RH-AHG
Gripe Water is a liquid that is used to treat infants who are experiencing colic, gastrointestinal discomfort, reflux, teething, hiccups, indigestion, and other stomach irritants. It is commonly made with water, sugar, sodium bicarbonate, dill oil, and in the past was made with alcohol although most gripe waters have eliminated the use of this ingredient. Some Gripe Waters are made using all natural ingredients such as chamomile, fennel, caraway, peppermint, ginger, aloe, lemon balm, blackthorn and vegetable carbon so as to eliminate any unnatural ingredients that may harm their baby’s overall health.
History of Gripe Water
The first Gripe Water was formulated by William Woodward in 1851, and contained 3.6% alcohol, dill oil, sodium bicarbonate, sugar, and water. Woodward was born in Stamford in 1828, and later apprenticed under pharmacist John Halliday Thomas of Boston where he served seven years and learned everything from business to the practice of pharmacy. After his apprenticeship he moved to London, and in 1851 purchased a pharmacy in Nottingham.
Woodward was well known and respected for his creation of remedies and simple ailments, and had many early successes including gripe water. He gained inspiration for the gripe water formula from a recipe that a group of Nottingham doctors were using to treat Fen Fever also known as malaria. It was not until later that it was noted that Woodward’s gripe water formula was not just effective for the treatment of malaria, but also towards the treatment of gastrointestinal discomfort in infants.
In 1876 he registered “gripe water” as a trade mark, and commissioned Sir Joshua Reynolds to paint the Infant Hercules which is the marquee that is still used today on all of Woodward’s gripe water products.1
In 1993 the FDA banned the import of all Woodward’s products into the US because it wasn’t an FDA approved drug.2 In response Woodward’s classified their gripe water as a dietary supplement in which it is still being manufactured and marketed today.
Types of Gripe Waters
There are two types of gripe waters. Dietary supplement gripe waters and homeopathic gripe waters.
Dietary Supplement Gripe Waters
- Woodward’s Gripe Water – The original gripe water created in 1851 by William Woodward. Its ingredients consist of dill oil, sodium bicarbonate, sugar, and water. It is manufactured in India and isn’t available for purchase in the US.
- Mommy’s Bliss – Previously known as Baby’s Bliss, Mommy’s Bliss ingredients include deionized water, vegetable glycerin, sodium bicarbonate, citrus bioflavonoid extract, citric acid, potassium sorbate, organic zingiber officinale (ginger root) extract, organic foeniculum vulgare (fennel seed) extract, and natural fennel flavor.
- Little Remedies – Consists of purified water, sugar, glycerin, propylene glycol, sodium citrate, natural ginger flavor, potassium sorbate, citric acid, xanthan gum, and Sodium EDTA.
Homeopathic Gripe Water
- Colic Calm – Made from nine carefully selected all natural ingredients including chamomile, fennel, caraway, peppermint, ginger, aloe, lemon balm, blackthorn, and vegetable charcoal. Colic Calm does not contain sugar, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), simethicone, herbal oils or extracts, artificial flavors or colors. In addition, there is NO wheat, gluten, soy, starch or dairy in the formula.
Benefits of Gripe Waters
- Generally safe for babies
- Made up of Natural Ingredients
- Eases discomfort associated with colic, gas, hiccups, teething, indigestion and reflux
- Effects are fast acting
- Tastes good
Cons of Gripe Waters
Some gripe waters may contain the following ingredients:
- Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) – has no known roll in the treatment of colic. Continuous dosing can lead to alkalosis and milk alkali syndrome. Has been known to deplete and interfere with Folic Acid and Iron. Can also prevent the absorption of other medications rendering them less effective. Also disrupts the stomachs pH balance.
- Potassium Sorbate – Used as a mold inhibitor, potassium sorbate is a skin, eye and respiratory irritant. It has also been found to be toxic to human DNA in which it affects ones immunity.
- Alcohol – Alcohol even consumed in small quantities is very detrimental to an infant. It can affect the brain causing delayed development and lowered intelligence. It also lowers the body’s blood sugar alcohol causing irritability, confusion and even seizures.
- Sugar – While natural sugar in the form of complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables are good for you, sugar itself can be harmful to babies. It can lead to suppression of the body’s immune responses leading to sickness, sugar highs which lead to sugar lows that can cause irritability3, and can harm your baby’s erupting teeth.
- Herbal Oils – Oils in high concentrations are toxic and can poison the body.
- Wheat, soy, gluten, starch, and dairy – A recent study shows that food allergies are on the rise, and the foods that were commonly associated with food allergies in which produce 90% of all reactions are wheat, soy, and dairy.
Benefits of Herbal Ingredients in Gripe Water
Chamomile – Chamomile has been safely and effectively used for thousands of years to treat digestive problems in infants. In 1898, highly respected medical practitioners and writers, Felter and Lloyd, described chamomile as “an important remedy”… particularly in the affections (afflictions) of young children. They describe the child needing chamomile as “restless, irritable, discontent, and impatient, and…only appeased when continually carried”.4 Chamomile possesses antispasmodic and relaxing qualities. It relieves inflammation, thereby decreasing abdominal pain.5 The German Commission E recommends chamomile for the relief of gastrointestinal spasms.
Fennel – Fennel relieves intestinal spasms and facilitates the movement of gas from baby’s digestive system, thereby relieving pain. It is used throughout the world as a colic remedy to soothe babies who cry incessantly due to colic.6
Caraway – Bloating often occurs with colic. Caraway eliminates bloating, relieves gas and relaxes intestinal spasms.7
Peppermint – Peppermint has been safely used for centuries. It relieves gas, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea and vomiting.
Ginger – Ginger provides safe, effective, relief of nausea and “spitting up”. It is one of the most well researched herbs on the planet. Multiple clinical studies support the use of ginger as a safe treatment for nausea and vomiting.
Lemon Balm – The Commission E approves the use of lemon balm to relieve anxiety, improve sleep, and relieve digestive problems.8 The European Society for Cognitive Psychology, “ESCOP, lists tenseness, restlessness, irritability, digestive disorders, and spasms as indications warranting the use of when the use of lemon balm.”
Aloe – Aloe’s thick mucilaginous qualities relieve pain and inflammation. Aloe promotes healthy bowel function and prevents constipation.
Blackthorn – Blackthorn has a normalizing effect on the bowel. It simultaneously corrects diarrhea and constipation. Blackthorn provides comfort by diminishing painful spasms.9
Vegetable Charcoal – Vegetable Charcoal is used by conventional and natural health care providers to relieve gas and absorb impurities from the digestive tract. Charcoal absorbs excess acid and reduces abdominal discomfort.
Choosing a Gripe Water
Now that you know what gripe water is, where it came from, the types of gripe waters and their ingredients, and the pros and cons of the ingredients in gripe waters, we hope you feel that you can make an educated decision on which gripe water is best for your baby.
When purchasing any gripe waters make sure they are manufactured using only the highest quality ingredients and standards. Make sure to purchase products free of harmful additives and preservatives and above all else make sure they are safe for your baby.
- Ivan Blumenthal MRCP DCH, JR Soc Med 2000;93:172-174, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1297971/pdf/10844880.pdf