• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Colicky baby? Use herbal remedy with caution

May 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some parents are blessed with happy babies who sleep through the night. Others will do anything to soothe their newborn's constant crying. Some remedies are especially appealing because they're natural. But a new study on herbal remedies for colicky babies offers a warning for parents.

She's only a month old, so who knows why baby Juliet cries and fusses a lot? But her mom, Aimee Merrilees, suspects it's gas.

"She's getting older and fussier and gassier," said Aimee.

But everything she's tried hasn't worked. "And so I was thinking of switching to 'gripe water' because gripe water is what all my girlfriends use."

"Gripe water" is an old herbal remedy that's been around since the mid-19th century. It used to contain alcohol. Now it's mainly fennel and ginger extract. But the problem is that different manufacturers make different formulations.

"It can have up to 10 or 11 different components and you can have symptoms worsen with that. You can have all kinds of problems and allergies," said Dr. John Mangoni, a pediatrician.

A new survey of 2,500 moms in the journal Pediatrics finds about 9 percent of the infants were given dietary botanical supplements like gripe water, or teas such as chamomile, during their first year of life. The reasons ranged from fussiness or colic to improving digestion and relaxation.

"These are remedies that may worsen digestive processes, may worsen reflux, may worsen gassiness. They can actually cause a reverse effect," said Mangoni.

Mangoni says parents should always consult their pediatrician before administering any herbal remedies to their infants. But he says the most important message is if your child is fussy and irritable, parents should relax because usually it's just a phase.

"When you tell parents what's really wrong with the child, and you say there's really nothing serious, usually colic will go away in four months, the parents relax," said Mangoni. "And when the parents relax, the babies relax."

Some moms in the study started their babies on herbal remedies as early as one month.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants younger than 6 months should not be given any food or drink other than breast milk or formula.