If you're like many tired parents, you might be tempted to try any number of things, in the hope of finding the parenting Holy Grail: more sleep!
Perhaps you've heard that adding things to a bottle of formula or breastmilk might get you extra sleep.
But, there are many things that our grandmothers did, but we simply know better now.
Maybe you're struggling with baby constipation or fussing, and you've heard conflicting advice about what might help.
Many old constipation and fussing remedies include adding things to baby's feeds.
Leading health organisations recommend for babies to be exclusively breastfed for around the first 6 months and then for breastfeeding to continue alongside suitable solid food for at least one year.
Exclusive breastfeeding means that a baby only receives breastmilk, no other liquids or solids are given.
Yet some parents might put various things (other than formula or breastmilk) into their baby’s bottle. They may have been told that these things are remedies, or even cures, for various conditions such as colic, wind, constipation, sleep etc.
Many of these things have been passed down from generation to generation.
Is there any scientific evidence to support the use of many of these things?
Could they potentially do harm?
Why We Shouldn't Add Anything To Bottles
Evidence continues to emerge about the how the bacteria in our gut (our gut microbiome) impacts our health. It appears that a resilient gut microbiome is important for our health. A resilient gut microbiome is one that is more diverse and less likely to shift towards unhealthy bacteria.
What happens in our early years may have the biggest impact on the development of our gut microbiome. This is because, in its early stages the gut microbiome can be easily altered. However, as the baby develops, the gut microbiome loses it plasticity and so becomes more resistant to change
There are many factors that influence the development of a baby’s gut microbiome. One of these factors is how a baby is fed.
Exclusive breastfeeding contributes to a baby developing a healthy gut microbiome. For example, there are significant differences in the bacteria that are in the gut of breastfed babies compared to formula fed babies. Breastmilk has the perfect mix of probiotics (the bacteria) and prebiotics (the food for the bacteria) to help a baby develop a healthy gut microbiome. In fact, the third most abundant component in breastmilk are oligosaccharides and breastmilk has more than 200 kinds.
Before giving a baby under the age of 6 months anything but breastmilk, we need to be aware of the potential effect we could be having on their gut microbiome. When we upset normal physiology, we could be exposing babies to risk that they wouldn’t otherwise face.
This is why it's important that we continue to educate about breastfeeding benefits, so those who do have a choice are able to make an informed one. Especially when you consider that most medical health professionals are receiving very little breastfeeding training (see our must read article here), parents deserve the right to be informed.
Here is a list of things to seek medical advice about before you consider putting it into your baby’s bottle:
#1: Gripe Water
You may have heard about use of gripe water as a way to try to reduce wind in a baby. While some parents may believe it is helpful, there is no scientific evidence to support its use.
You might not be aware, but gripe water contains about 4% alcohol. It is possible that any perceived benefits of it may be partly due to the sleep-inducing properties of alcohol.
If something given to a baby for non-medical reasons happens to unnaturally induce sleep, this could potentially cause harm. For example, sleeping longer/deeper may increase a baby’s risk of SIDS.
#2: Corn (Karo) Syrup
If your baby is suffering from constipation it can be quite difficult watching their discomfort. While seeking advice, you may have heard about the use of corn syrup to help treat constipation in babies. It is, after all, an old remedy that was commonly used.
For more information about how to safely treat constipation read here.
Some people think that it is necessary to give babies water in hot or humid weather, or for extra hydration.
Water is not necessary for an exclusively breastfed baby even on hot or humid days.
Under some circumstances formula fed babies may need extra water. It is important to be guided by your medical care provider, since giving water to a young baby can be potentially dangerous.
You may have heard about the use of Infacol to treat excessive wind and colic in babies. But is its use justified?
The active ingredient in Infacol is simethicone. A 2014 review found that with regards to simethicone for the treatment of colic “several randomized controlled trials noted no difference in reducing colic episodes compared with placebo”.
Are there any reasons why Infacol could be harmful? Yes, possibly.
Among a list of other ingredients in Infacol, there are Methyl Hydroxybenzoate (E218) and Propyl Hydroxybenzoate (E216). These ingredients may cause allergic reactions (possibly delayed). They are also parabens which are considered by some to be potentially dangerous.
Some parents may have been heard about use of thickeners to treat reflux. The thought is that by making the feed heavier it would tend to stay in the stomach rather than rising back up the oesophagus.
Thickeners include commercial milk thickeners, rice cereal, ‘cornflour’ (this can be made from wheat or corn) or bean gum.
It is important that a baby is not given thickened feeds, unless advised by a doctor.
According to Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) thickening of feeds “has some benefit in decreasing the amount regurgitated but is not effective in decreasing the number of episodes of GOR [gastro-oesophageal reflux] or acid exposure, and thus has no real place in the management of complicated GOR.”
The NHMRC also indicates that feed thickeners cannot be used in breastfeeding and have some adverse effects such as increasing the length of time it takes for feeds to pass through the stomach and even increasing reflux. Thickeners can also increase coughing and constipation.
If your baby is premature, it is even more important that you not add anything to their bottles unless advised by a doctor. Some commercial thickeners have been linked to an increased risk of Necrotising Entercolitis, a serious and life-threatening condition where tissue in the intestines becomes inflamed and dies.
#6: Rice Cereal
It isn't uncommon for well-meaning family and friends to give advice on how to get a little extra sleep. At one point, many thought adding rice cereal to bottles would help baby to sleep longer.
However, research shows that introducing solid food to a baby early does not help improve his sleep. It fact, it may make it worse. This may be due to a baby experiencing negative reactions to the solid food (e.g. a tummy ache) especially if he is under 6 months.
You can read more about the introduction of solids here.
#7: Prune Juice
Sometimes parents might be advised to give their baby diluted prune juice to treat constipation.
Giving too much fibre to a baby might reduce their absorption of other nutrients from food.
Therefore, unless advised by a doctor, giving prune juice to a baby (particularly if less than 6 months of age), is not recommended.
Some people will say: “well I had that/did that and I/my baby turned out fine!” But when we know better, we do better. A mother will spend nine long months growing her gorgeous little being inside her womb, while avoiding medications, a glass of wine, this and that — all to ensure zero risk to the growing baby. It's helpful to continue to learn ways we can best protect our baby outside the womb too, based on what we now know to be different.