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All parents have to deal with a fussy infant at one time or another and it seems like nothing will sooth them*. Hence, there are many over-the-counter tonics and formulas that are said to calm a fussing infant child suffering from gastrointestinal discomfort.

One of these is Gripe Water. I currently have Mommy's Bliss brand in front of me and it says right on the front:

Safely and naturally relieves stomach discomfort and gas*
occasionally associated with colic / upset tummy / hiccups / teething

...

This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnosis, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

This particular brand contains these seemingly benign ingredients:

Deionized water, vegetable glycerine, fructose, citrus biflavinoid extract, citric acid, natural fennel flavor.

Now I have never actually used it more than twice, once on my daughter a few years ago and earlier today on my infant son who won't stop fussing today, so I can't speak from personal experience if it works or not. My sister swears by it with her three children.

Is there any study on the effectiveness of Gripe Water? Can the claim be substantiated? What is the history of this solution? What is the active ingredient in the above list?


*In fact, I am typing this with one hand because my three week old son won't stop fussing unless I hold him in a particular way.

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There is little limited research on if/how Gripe Water works.

This literature review from 2000 looks at the evidence of how Gripe Water deals with colic (which may or may not be caused by intestinal discomfort):

  • Blumenthal, I (April 2000). "The Gripe Water Story". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 93 (4): 172–174. PMC 1297971. PMID 10844880.

Some versions of Gripe Water contain alcohol (depending on jurisdiction), but that does not appear to be an active ingredient in dealing with colic.

Instead, it is the sweet taste that helps. So (depending on the ingredients), not the bicarbonate, not the sugar itself and probably not the dill in most cases. (Fennel wasn't present in the original formulation, although it varies.)

It now seems that the soothing effect of gripe water derives from its sweet taste. Recent studies have shown that infants with colic obtain relief from sugar solutions. The face that the analgesic effect of a sugar solution is lost when it is fed by tube indicates the effect, which persists after the sugar is swallowed, is mediated through taste. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are just as effective as sucrose.

  • 1
    Interesting, and thank you. The thing with colic is that it is the default diagnosis for an inconsolable infant. There is no test or anything for it. It basically means "I don't know. It's probably gut/digestion related." If the infant is suffering from digestion problems, then it makes sense that a sweet flavor might help, because that encourages proper gut activity (juice dieters are encouraged to chew xylitol gum after a "meal"). – fredsbend Jan 12 '14 at 2:25
  • Right, colic is defined by the number of times the child cries, which isn't very specific. The author doesn't rule out that dill could help if the colic is related to indigestion, but doesn't give much evidence either. – Oddthinking Jan 12 '14 at 2:33
  • @Oddthinking You refer to fennel in your answer, but the paper you cite never mentions it. Is there another source that discounted it? – SourDoh Jan 12 '14 at 5:25
  • @sourd'oh: Oh dear. I could have sworn it dismissed the fennel, but I checked; you are right. I failed at reading comprehension. Sorry. Updated. – Oddthinking Jan 12 '14 at 10:10
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Fennel is commonly used as a natural remedy for gas and other digestive problems, so that is probably the "active ingredient" (though "natural flavor" is pretty vague). Glycerin would be for texture and sweetness, fructose is a sweetener, citric acid adds tartness (probably just for flavor). Citrus bioflavonoids is trickier. That umbrella covers many different compounds, some studied, some not so much. There is a chance that the gripe water could work, as one study has shown fennel effective at reducing the symptoms of colic, but none yet prove the effectiveness of prepared gripe water.

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