Gripe water: Does your baby need it?

By CANDIECE KNIGHT

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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COLIC is a condition that is experienced by some babies, especially those between three weeks and six months old. It causes them to cry uncontrollably for no apparent reason, for hours at a time. Though scientists are still not sure what exactly causes babies to be colicky, many mothers conclude that it is because of an upset stomach. In fact, if you ask the average Jamaican what colic is, they will tell you that it is a stomach illness or indigestion.

Based on this assumption, many Jamaican parents (and others around the world) have taken to feeding babies a mixture called gripe water when they start crying incessantly. It is believed that its ingredients, which usually include sugar, alcohol, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and plant extracts, will help to soothe the baby's stomach.

But how safe is it to give gripe water to young babies, especially those under six months old who should be on a strict milk diet?

Nutrition advisor Janique Watts advises that it is not safe to give this substance to newborns at all.

“It is not recommended to give babies younger than a month this treatment for colic as the baby's digestive system is still developing and highly sensitive,” she said.

“Due to their underdeveloped immune and digestive systems, the introduction of this mixture can cause disruption in the normal balance of healthy gut bacteria and pH, leading to side effects.”

She also noted some of the effects of some of the most common ingredients in gripe water on babies.

“Alcohol can have diverse effects on the development of the nervous system of a baby if ingested, which can lead to possible long-term cognitive defects. Confusion, choking due to temporary impaired swallowing, vomiting and seizures are a few of the side effects of alcohol consumption.”

Sugar is another popular ingredient found in gripe water.

“Excessive sugar consumption can lead to a baby developing bad eating habits that can then lead to becoming overweight. This can also lead to rotting of the child's teeth when they appear,” she warned.

She was quick to point out, however, that the dosage of these ingredients in gripe water is low, and not likely to cause the most adverse reactions.

“However, the misuse of any type of medication can lead to impaired health and side effects. Also, it is recommended that babies should be exclusively breastfeeding from zero to six months.”

Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is sometimes used as an antacid in adults, and so some manufacturers include it in their gripe water.

“It is not safe to give this to babies as it lowers the blood pH, making it alkaline. This state of alkalosis can worsen the symptoms of colic and in rare cases can lead to possible muscle spasms and seizures,” Watts said.

Gripe mixtures may also contain ingredients such as perppermint, gluten, dairy products and parabens, which may cause allergic reactions, Watts said.

“Peppermint can lead to increased reflux action for the baby, which will add to the discomfort of the colic. The other ingredients may lead to allergic reactions which manifest as rashes, swellings, etc, and could be fatal if not treated immediately.”

To date, there is no evidence that shows that gripe water has ever helped colic in the first place.

Watts cited a study done by Jain et al (2015) that compared babies who received gripe water for their colic and those who didn't.

“No significant evidence was found that it was helpful. On the contrary, gripe water proved to increase gastric problems like constipation and vomiting,” she said.

So what can you do, then, to help a baby with an upset stomach?

“Mothers are advised to avoid eating certain foods,” she said. “Foods like cabbage, caffeine and dairy products can pass through breast milk and increase the likelihood of the baby developing colic. Alternative treatments include sitting the baby upright whilst rubbing the back gently, swaddling the baby in a warm cloth to offer comfort, and preventing the baby from swallowing air during feeding times by ensuring a tight latch/suction is created around the areola of the breast.”

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