Gripe water in the treatment of infant colic.
Another popular option is something called gripe water, which is a homeopathic (alternative medicine) treatment. Gripe water was developed in the 1800's by William Woodward, a British pharmacist. Mr. Woodward developed the idea for gripe water by observing that children who suffered from "fen fever" (related to malaria) showed relief from gastrointestinal distress when given a solution containing sodium bicarbonate, dill see oil, alcohol and various other substances (see resource 2). Several variations of gripe water have been developed through the years, and many of them traditionally contained alcohol, sodium bicarbonate, vegetable carbon, ginger, dill, fennel, and chamomile. More recently, I have not come across any brand in the US that contains alcohol.
That being said, if you do come across a brand with alcohol in it, I would definitely avoid it. As my son's pediatrician recently informed me, some brands also contain heavy metals, like lead (again, I haven't come across this in the US), which should also be avoided. A second common ingredient in gripe water is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Sodium bicarbonate is found in many antacids and is used to neutralize stomach acid. Although many people use gripe water with sodium bicarbonate, I did not want to give my son anything that would alter stomach acidity because I fear the long-term implications of this effect. There are also somewhat rare but devastating cases where sodium bicarbonate has ruptured otherwise healthy patients' stomachs, which seems to occur due to a sudden release of gas pressure, and is especially common on a full stomach (see Resource 3).
In my quest for gripe water that does not contain alcohol or sodium bicarbonate, I have stumbled across a few viable options. The first is Colic Calm Gripe Water, which is all natural, and claims to be the only FDA regulated company producing gripe water. It contains fennel, peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile, caraway, ginger, aloe, and vegetable carbon (which is vegetable charcoal). I did have some concerns about charcoal as I found some information online that charcoal may decrease nutrient absorption in children however I was not able to find a research article to support this.
The second is Wellements Organic Gripe Water, which contains chamomile flowers, fennel, and ginger as the active ingredients. I like this option because it contains no methylparaben and propylparaben as preservatives, which some research suggests may be linked to breast tumors (see resource 1, below). However, it should be noted that these preservatives are found in other food products like cereals (as well as some cosmetics). The third gripe water is Colic Ease, which contains dill weed seed oil, caraway seed oil, cinnamon seed oil, and clove bud oil as the active ingredients. I have not tried all of these gripe waters but would feel comfortable giving my baby any of these. Of course, while some of these gripe waters may be useful for some, they are certainly not useful for all, and research has yet to definitively link any of the ingredients in these gripe water formulas to scientifically reliable reductions in gas or colic.
1 Darbre, P. D., Aljarrah, A., Miller, W. R., Coldham, N. G., Sauer, M. J., & Pope, G. S. (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors.Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24, 5-13.
2 Rosen, L. D., & Breuner, C. C. (2007). Primary care from infancy to adolescence. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 54, 837-858.
3 Fordtran, J. S., Morawski, S. G., Santa Ana, C. A., & Rector, F. C. Jr. (1984). Gas production after reaction of sodium bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid. Gastroenterology, 87, 1014-1021.