Colic is a common problem in young babies, with around one-fifth of babies developing the condition.
Colic tends to get worse in the early evening. As well as crying that gets worse throughout the day or night, other signs of colic include:
- pulling the legs up towards the chest
- passing gas
- an enlarged stomach
Some people swear by specific remedies for colic, such as gas drops and gripe water. But what is the difference, and which one is best?
What is gripe water?
Gripe water is a liquid solution that may reduce colic symptoms.
Gripe water is a liquid solution containing herbs, such as dill seed oil. Some people believe that gripe water warms and soothes a baby’s stomach and reduces colic symptoms.
Different brands of gripe water contain different ingredients. Some still include sugar and alcohol, though most are now sugar and alcohol-free.
Gripe water also usually contains sodium bicarbonate, thought to help relieve colic symptoms by offsetting stomach acid. However, too much sodium bicarbonate can cause alkalosis, a condition that can lower the acidity in a person’s blood, leading to serious side effects.
What are gas drops?
Gas drops contain simethicone. This active ingredient breaks up larger gas bubbles into smaller ones, which are more comfortable for a baby to pass.
Caregivers can give the drops directly to a baby or mix them in with formula or expressed breast milk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that gas drops are safe to give to newborn babies, and adverse side effects are rare.
However, if a baby is also taking thyroid hormone medication, do not give them gas drops as simethicone can interact with this type of medication. Doctors may prescribe thyroid hormone medication for conditions, such as congenital hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland is underdeveloped.
Which option is better for colic?
Anyone caring for a baby with colic will likely be keen to try anything that might ease the baby’s discomfort.
Several users of parent-to-parent forums have recommended both gripe water and gas drops as remedies for colic. However, no scientific evidence shows either of them to work. As such, it is up to the caregiver to decide whether to try either remedy and see which, if either, works best for the child.
If a baby’s symptoms seem to stem more from gas pain, then gas drops might be more effective. If a baby appears in more general discomfort, gripe water might be the better option. However, there is no guarantee that either will make a difference.
Caregivers should remember that there is always a possibility their child could react negatively to any new remedy.
Gripe water products can contain many different ingredients. Be sure to check the label of gripe water to see what it contains. Do not use products that contain alcohol.
Also, some gripe water ingredients remain untested in babies. Ask a doctor to be sure ingredients are safe for a baby before using them.
A new, untried remedy could also cause an allergic reaction. Caregivers should learn the signs that might indicate an infant is having an allergic reaction. If a caregiver suspects an allergic reaction, they should stop using the medicine immediately and seek advice from a doctor.
Signs of an allergic reaction include:
- a rash
- difficulty breathing
- swelling on the face, neck, or tongue
Caregivers should make sure they give the correct dosage, store gripe water and gas drops according to the instructions, and check that they are within their use-by date. Doing so will also reduce the risk of the remedy causing any upset to the infant.
Other home remedies for colic
Gently rocking the baby may reduce pain and provide comfort.
More research is necessary to understand why colic occurs and which treatments can help reduce the symptoms of this condition.
As well as gas drops and gripe water, other home remedies include:
White noise or womb noise
Some people find that noises that mimic the sounds babies hear inside the womb can help soothe and calm babies who are crying from colic. Noise from household appliances, such as hoovers and hairdryers, may have a similar effect.
Carry, rock, or walk
Some young babies who are upset because of the discomfort and pain that colic causes like to be held and rocked rhythmically.
Some parents suggest that going for a drive or out for a walk with the baby in the buggy can help due to the gentle rocking motions. Putting the infant in a sling while walking around can provide comfort from movement and skin-to-skin contact.
Avoid certain foods if breast-feeding
Some foods may pass through breast milk and could cause a fussier, gassier baby. However, people who are breast-feeding should avoid randomly removing foods from their diet.
Instead, look for patterns and try to identify if the baby becomes fussy after eating certain foods.
Some foods that are sometimes, though not always, culprits, include:
- dairy products
Some people choose to avoid these foods while breast-feeding in an attempt to reduce colic symptoms in the infant.
Switch to a different bottle if formula feeding
Some people find it helpful to use bottles with slow-flow teats or those that are designed to reduce colic by only allowing milk to come out when the baby sucks.
These bottles may reduce the amount of air the baby swallows when feeding and therefore the amount of gas that forms in the stomach.
Some anti-colic bottles are available to purchase online.
Change feeding positions
Holding a baby upright during and after feeding could help keep feeds down and prevent reflux.
Smaller, more frequent meals could also aid digestion and lessen the symptoms associated with colic.
Try a pacifier
Some babies may find a pacifier soothing, though some may also refuse one.
Causes of colic
Doctors are not sure what causes colic, or why some babies get colic and others do not. However, some possible causes include:
- lactose intolerance, or allergy to lactose, which is the protein found in cows’ milk and dairy products
- other gastrointestinal causes, such as reflux
- an imbalance of different types of bacteria in the gut
- problems in the gut and intestines with moving food through the digestive system
- swallowing air while crying, which then gets trapped in the stomach
- a hernia
- caregiver behaviors, such as smoking and poor feeding technique
Colic does not mean there is anything necessarily wrong with a baby, and most people find that their babies start to show improvement at around 3 to 4 months of age.
When to see a doctor
Consult a doctor if the baby has a temperature above 100.4˚F (38˚C).
Colic is widespread in young babies. Although often upsetting for both the caregiver and baby, the symptoms of colic are usually no cause for concern.
However, there are times where a caregiver should seek advice from a medical professional to ensure there is not a more severe underlying condition causing symptoms.
A person should see a doctor if the baby:
- has a temperature over 100.4˚F (38˚C)
- is crying uncontrollably due to falling or injuring themselves
- has blue lips or a bluish tinged skin — this suggests they are not getting adequate oxygen
- has blood in their stool
- has not had a bowel movement for significantly longer than usual
Caregivers should also consider seeking advice from a doctor if the colic symptoms are causing them great concern or are making it difficult for them to cope. A doctor or other medical professional can provide advice on reducing symptoms of colic.
Colic is a common condition in young babies. Because the symptoms often appear to cause distress, many caregivers are keen to find treatments to reduce the symptoms and comfort their little ones.
There are many remedies that people suggest for easing the symptoms of colic, including gripe water and gas drops. However, no clinical evidence has found that these remedies are effective.
It is up to the caregiver to decide whether they wish to try gas drops or gripe water. They may find that one works better than the other or that neither has an effect. Be sure to check what ingredients are in the gripe water, and talk to a doctor to make sure they are safe before using it.
If someone is feeling tired or anxious about a baby with colic, they may benefit from seeking help from another person to look after the baby while they take a break. Remembering that colic is temporary and most babies’ symptoms ease by the time they are 3 to 4 months old can help parents get through the more difficult periods.