We've been given a bottle of Woodward's gripe water? Is it safe? I see a long list of ingredients, such as
Additionaly, is it useful?
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From what I've been able to research, personally I would avoid using any gripe water.
Beyond the original alcohol content mentioned by Tim Post in his answer, some doctors attribute much of the efficacy to the sugar content, as sugar exerts a natural pain relieving effect on young children.
At least some doctors seem to feel gripe water in general is relatively harmless, and may provide some relief in mild cases of discomfort. However, for full-blown colic, it appears to be not recommended, and generally regarded by professionals as ineffective (or, at best, questionably effective).
Regarding the specific ingredients you mentioned, Methylparaben occurs naturally in fruit such as blueberries, and is generally recognized for safe for foods.
... [sodium bicarbonate] alters the naturally occurring pH of baby's stomach acid. It may counteract some discomfort caused by acid reflux in cases of acidic stomach. However, changing the delicate pH balance in baby’s system can cause over-alkalinity and exacerbate a colicky condition. Furthermore, sodium bicarbonate is also absorbed into the bloodstream and thus can have unwanted side effects. Studies have shown that sodium bicarbonate can deplete and interfere with Folic Acid and Iron, indicating that it may affect the function or absorption of both.
However, this claim is unreferenced, and from a website devoted to advertising a brand of gripe water that touts not having sodium bicarbonate as an ingredient as a selling point, so I take that with a grain of salt.
However, I did find a site dedicated to pharmacists that states:
Pharmacists should be cautious about stocking or recommending various "gripe water" products, such as Little Tummys Gripe Water, Baby's Bliss Gripe Water, Wellements Gripe Water, and Gentle Care Gripe Water.7 These unproven products contain sodium bicarbonate, ginger, fennel, and/or chamomile, none of which is known to be safe in babies or effective for colic. Pharmacists should neither stock nor recommend these products.
Bronopol is a preservative used in pharmaceuticals. This site lists it as "an ingredient always to avoid", describing it as an "Allergen that forms cancer-causing chemical". This matches up with information on Bronopol in wikipedia.
Based upon the possible issues with both Bronopol and the sodium bicarbonate, I would say the risks outweigh the possible benefits.
Like any other over the counter tonic, it's always a good idea to check with your pediatrician before giving it to your child. Our pedia gives us the riot act if we don't check with her regarding well known cough and cold medications.
Gripe water probably worked wonders because of its alcohol content. In fact, the recommended dose for an infant was be similar to an adult drinking several (or more) shots of whiskey. Alarmingly, in some countries, it appears to still be formulated with alcohol.
Every single thing I read about it makes me not want to give it to a child. If you're trying to cure a case of colic, ask your pedia for advice.