Having a fussy baby may be par for the course as a parent, but it’s still not a lot of fun. When naps and overnight sleep get disrupted, nobody’s happy (particularly not your inconsolable child).
Of course, both excessive crying and gas are a normal part of being a baby, and baby burps can even be cute! But when it reaches a certain point, parents may feel the urge to turn to a remedy that goes beyond bicycle kicks and tummy rubs.
Baby gas drops (such as the Ovol brand) are one popular option. Much like gripe water, baby gas drops are often sought as a remedy for both colic and gassiness (in part because it can be tough to tell one from the other), but they are very different products.
Unlike gripe water, which is typically a mix of herbs and baking soda, gas drops typically include the drug simethicone, which has been around since 1952 and breaks down small gas bubbles into larger ones that can be passed more easily. Health Canada designates it as an “antiflatulent” (which makes it sound promising as a gas remedy).
Baby gas drops have their backers, and a perusal of parenting chat rooms will find no shortage of those who believe that gas drops are effective, either because the simethicone (under the brand name Ovol) works or because babies like the taste.
As far as the medical community goes, simethicone gas drops are considered safe for infants, but there’s little hard evidence to show that they work on a consistent basis. “Personally, I don’t recommend them,” says Jeff Critch, a paediatrician in St. John’s, Nfld.
“It goes back to the benefit and it doesn’t seem to really have been proven to have one.”
That said, Critch doesn’t outright advise against using gas drops either. But the general rule of thumb is to consult your child’s medical provider before giving them any type of medication. While simethicone is considered fairly benign, there is the potential for an allergic reaction, and some research has found that it can cause loose stools—although that may not be the end of the world when balanced against the potential soothing effects.
For Critch, using gas drops as a go-to alternative to seeing a doctor may end up being the wrong decision. Parents don’t always make the right diagnosis. “Obviously, the first thing is to understand what’s happening with the patient and child and what they’re inferring as being issues with gas,” he says. “Is it just irritability and crying or something else?”
Not all baby gas drops are simethicone-based, and homeopathic drops have their own supporters. But like simethicone and gripe water, there’s little conclusive evidence that they move the dial very much. “I don’t recommend them either,” says Critch, though he adds that there is some evidence to support the use of probiotic drops to treat gas and colic in babies, especially breastfed babies.
As with many home remedies, the act of doing something—sort of a parent placebo— may be the chief benefit of products like gas drops. Ultimately, the most tried-and-true treatment for colic and gas is one that may not seem palatable during a particularly bad crying spell: the passage of time.