7 Things To Avoid Putting In Your Baby’s Bottle

7 Things To Avoid Putting In Your Baby’s Bottle

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.

Sometimes, the signs a ‘windy’ or ‘gassy’ baby shows may be due to the witching hour or colic.

#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.

However, the use of corn syrup to treat constipation in babies is no longer recommended and may be dangerous as it may cause botulism.

For more information about how to safely treat constipation read here.

#3: Water

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.

#4: Infacol

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.

#5: Thickeners

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.

Last Updated: August 9, 2015


Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


  1. Hi there,
    Fantastic article.
    Very interest about the thickeners in relation to breastfeeding. If elimatkon diets don’t work, what other options are there if thickeners are not recommended?


    1. Thanks for your comment Ruby. Obviously you cannot thicken milk that your baby drinks straight from your breast. It is also hard to thicken expressed breastmilk, as live enzymes in the milk work to break down the starches that make up many thickeners. Sometimes thickeners are mixed with water and given to the baby (e.g. with a teaspoon) before breastfeeding.
      But I think the point is that the use of thickeners are questionable to begin with.
      There are many other ways to deal with reflux, if indeed it needs to be dealt with at all. See http://www.bellybelly.com.au/baby/reflux-in-babies/ and http://www.bellybelly.com.au/baby/6-reasons-why-your-baby-may-have-tummy-troubles/
      Hope this helps.

  2. Renee, you say “If you’re formula feeding, it’s still important to follow recommendations of not offering anything but formula or breastmilk prior to six months.” While giving a formula fed baby breast milk will help it digest the formula and do no harm, we really have no science to tell us what is best for formula-fed infants. WHO has never, and will never, research the effects of commercial infant formulas. These are all different, and how safe it is to persist with one any brand alone for 6 months has never been researched. The reason for the AAP’s 1980 recommendation to introduce other foods at 4 months was that by then body stores would be exhausted in term infants and infant formula could not be trusted to be sufficient by itself; widening the diet was seen as safeguard against deficiencies/excesses such as had recently brain-damaged US infants. I personally believe that formula brands should be varied, and the diet widened between 4 and 6 months, when the baby is solely formula fed. Once it was shown that breast milk alone to 6 months was best, everyone ASSUMED this applied to formula fed infants too: I repeat, we do not have research to guide the formula-fed. The best advice for them is still the 1980s one as far as I can see in the literature.

    1. Thanks Maureen for your insightful comments. You are right. We don’t know what might be best for formula fed babies as we don’t have the science to tell us. I think we will remove the sentence you highlighted.
      Warm regards

  3. Thanks for the lecture.People always disturb me about not giving my baby water,told them am doing exclusive but still they insist the baby needs water.I told them is not necessary since everything my baby needs he gets from breastmilk.

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