Gripe Water: Time-Honored Remedy for Colic or Myth?

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Babies

gripe water

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Have a cranky baby with a sour stomach?

You might want to try some gripe water. That's a home remedy with varying ingredients (depending on the home) but generally including alcohol, bicarbonate, ginger, dill, fennel and chamomile.

A lot of folks have been swearing by it since the mid-19th century.

Of course, a lot of folks have been swearing by monkey bladders a lot longer than that. The curative powers of monkey bladders for everything from upset stomachs to impotency to eye diseases to childhood tantrums have been lauded in China since ancient times.

That's the problem with folk remedies. They are long on personal testimonials and short on actual scientific evidence. They generally fall under the category of chicken soup. Hey, it can't hurt.

The Los Angeles Times reports that gripe water has moved outside the realm of home remedy and has become trendy as a mass-marketed commodity for children with colic.

They have brand names like 'Little Tummys' and 'Mommy's Bliss Gripe'. They don't contain (sorry, kids) any alcohol but are more expensive than a lot of wines. A 4-ounce bottle of Mommy's Bliss costs about $12.

"We have a customer base of parents who absolutely love this," Dean Siegal, the director of communications for Prestige Brands, the makers of Little Tummys, tells CBS.

Gripe water may help calm upset tummies, Anne Eglash, a family physician and clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, tells CBS.

"Trying gripe water isn't a bad thing," she adds.

However, she says, there's a big difference between mild stomach upset and full-blown, five-alarm colic. "Giving gripe water isn't going to do much," Eglash tells CBS.

The ginger, fennel and other ingredients found in gripe waters are safe enough for babies, Eglash tells the network. Nonetheless, the federal Food and Drug Administration officials recalled apple-flavored Baby's Bliss Gripe Water in 2007 after detecting the intestinal parasite cryptosporidium in a sample.

It's important to remember, she says, gripe waters have never been scientifically tested as remedies for colic or anything else.

"People are trying this and many other unproven treatments because they are desperate," Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, tells CBS.

The best remedy could be not to freak out. Most babies with colic grow out of it by the time they're 3 months old, CBS reports.

If they don't, there's always monkey bladder.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.