The practice of giving infants herbal teas and supplements to ease digestion or fussiness is potentially harmful, warn researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA researchers have expressed concern over the widespread use of gripe water, a formula containing ginger and fennel used for colic and gas, chamomile, an herb used in tea, and teething tablets, which may also contain botanical ingredients, because of unknown drug interactions or contaminants in the products. Other supplements and teas used by mothers included mint, anise, chrysanthemum tea, clove oil, flax seed oil, garlic oil, goldenseal extract and lemon tea.
The FDA is yet to regulate these botanical preparations as it has done with drugs.
"Parents of infants and young children should understand that dietary supplements have not been evaluated by FDA to treat, cure or prevent any disease and that using them as such may not be appropriate," said Sara Fein, a study author.
The study involved a survey of 2,600 mothers who were given questionnaires once before their babies were born and 10 times during the first year after birth. The survey revealed that about 9 percent of mothers surveyed used dietary supplements or teas in their children younger than 1 year old, usually for a short period of time. Mothers most often got their information about supplements from friends and relatives and from the media and health-care professionals. Usually they used these supplements themselves.
Of course, there are those who believe in the efficacy of botanical products. Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, makes the point that nobody would recommend the teas and supplements for babies if they didn't work or if there were side effects.
Meanwhile, the FDA is planning to continue its present study as it plans to survey the same mothers from today's study when their children are about 6 years old to again ask about their use of botanical supplements.