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We all have our go-to medications stocked in our medicine cabinets for the adult members of the family. Maybe yours include Motrin, Tylenol, Triple Antibiotic Ointment, and/or allergy medications. Most of us have a pretty good idea how to use these safely and can follow the directions on the bottle. However, the game changes when we are talking about babies and toddlers. They get the same ailments such as pain, fever, and allergies, but the directions on the packaging often don’t cover our littlest family members. Here is everything you need to know about giving medicine to a baby or toddler.
As a pharmacist, I wanted to provide answers to the most common questions parents ask. However, this information should not be taken as medical advice because I don’t know all the details of your child’s illness.
Each situation is different, so it’s important that you use this information only as a guide and speak to your pharmacist and/or doctor about your child’s specific symptoms, and other characteristics.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
As a general rule of thumb, things are more severe the younger your baby is. If you have a newborn, it’s a good idea to contact the nurse helpline or doctor whenever your baby is sick. However, once your baby is a little older, you can treat low-grade fevers and minor colds at home as long as he’s generally healthy otherwise.
Doctor’s offices will usually have a nurse helpline that you can contact with questions and they can help you determine if your baby needs to be seen. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and call this number. It’s free and the worse that happens is you sit on hold for a bit waiting for your call to be answered.
Reading Medication Labels
Over-the-counter medications or OTCs are medications that you can purchase without a prescription. These are medications that the FDA has determined can be used safely based on the directions on the label.
The Drug Facts section on the label is where all the information you need to use the medication safely is located. This is what the FDA has determined is necessary for you to know to use the medication without a doctor or pharmacist being involved. It includes 7 sections which I will go over below.
The section states what ingredients are included in the medication with the intent of providing the intended action. The drug is listed by its generic name and the amount and purpose of the medication are stated. This section is how you can tell the difference between products with similar packaging and names.
If you see ‘HPUS’ included in this section, it means that the medication is a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathic remedies are beyond the scope of this article. However, the basic principle is that illness is cured by giving tiny amounts of a substance that would be toxic in larger amounts. Homeopathic remedy strength is indicated by HPUS and the less of a substance that the product contains the stronger it is.
This section lists the different symptoms the medication is likely to work for when dosed based on the information on the box.
The warnings section is often the longest, but it’s a very important section. Here you will find warnings about allergies, when to stop using and when to talk to a doctor or pharmacist prior to using the medication.
The directions are often what people jump to first, but the above sections are also important to read. The directions state how much of the medication to take and how often to take it. This is often divided into sections based on age. However, you will find that many medications don’t providing dosing for children under 6 months or under 2 years. This is because the FDA doesn’t think the medication can be safely used in this population without oversight from a doctor.
This is other information that may be helpful such as how to store the medication.
These are the ingredients that aren’t expected to have beneficial effects. These products are added to help form the tablet or liquid or to add color or flavor. Medications all contain inactive ingredients in addition to the active one. You would want to look at this section if your child has allergies as there may be an inactive ingredient that they are allergic to. However, if you aren’t concerned about allergies, you can generally ignore this section.
Questions or Comments?
The final section is a phone number to contact the drug company if you have any questions or comments about the medication.
Giving Medications to a Baby
Medications for babies are in liquid form. You will need a method to measure the dose and a method to administer it. For measuring, you could use a syringe or measuring container. Generally, medications will come with a plastic cup or syringe for measuring. These are marked with milliliter or mL. The directions on the packaging will tell you how many mL to give. If the medication doesn’t have a measuring device or it gets lost, you can purchase one at most drug stores.
The measuring devices can also work to administer the medication. However, depending on the age of your child, a small cup may not work for giving the medication, but a syringe often works well for giving medication to a baby. There are many handy devices available if you prefer. These include pacifiers and tiny bottles that are designed for you to put the medication into them and then baby gets the medication while sucking.
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Giving medication can get challenging though, so parents have come up with some hacks for making the process easier. For babies, a pacifier with an open back (like the hospital gives you) is about the right size for fitting a syringe into. Cut a hole in the tip and while your baby is sucking on the pacifier, slowly squirt the medication out of the syringe.
For toddlers that have mastered drinking from a straw, cut the back out of an empty juice box. Then put the medication in a small cup into the juice box for the toddler to drink from a straw.
What you don’t want to do is mix the medication into a bottle or sippy cup filled with milk or another liquid. The reason is that often a child won’t drink the entire amount and then you don’t know how much medication was actually consumed. Also, letting the medication sit in liquid for an extended period waiting for your child to drink it, can make the medication less effective. If you do mix a medication into a drink, make sure that the entire drink is consumed in one sitting.
For antibiotics, you will need to make sure you shake the medication well before measuring out a dose. Antibiotics come as suspensions which means that when they sit for an extended period, the medication will sink to the bottom of the bottle. By shaking it, you make sure that the medication is evenly mixed before you measure a dose.
Many liquid antibiotics need to be refrigerated and they are also only good for 10 to 14 days. The pharmacist will tell you if it needs to be in the fridge and how long it’s good for. It’s important that you keep antibiotics in the fridge if they require it. This can also make it taste better which is a win.
It’s important that your child take the entire course of antibiotics. If the doctor prescribes it for 10 days, then you need to give it for 10 days. Your child should start to feel better well before 10 days is up, but if you stop the medication too early, the infection can come back. At the end of the prescribed treatment, you want to discard any leftover medication. Antibiotics aren’t good for very long once they are mixed, so the medication won’t keep for future use.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Baby Medicines
Baby Medicine for Fever
A fever is the body’s natural defense mechanism and indicates that there is some type of infection the body needs to fight. Therefore, it isn’t completely bad. If your baby has a mild fever and doesn’t appear to be too affected by it, then it may not need treated. However, if a fever gets too high it can lead to seizures. If your baby or toddler has a fever, it doesn’t hurt to contact the nurse hotline. They may tell you it’s okay, but it never hurts to check since a fever does mean there is something else going on.
If you need to treat the fever, the medications that could be used are Infant’s Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Infant Motrin (ibuprofen). These medications are both available over the counter. Make sure to read the directions on the product you are using because there can be slight differences. If you need help figuring out how much to give, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
When your baby has a fever, dehydration is more likely. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have Pedialyte on hand to help encourage fluid intake.
Baby Medicine for Colds
There are a variety of readily available medications for adults with a cold. However, these are not recommended for use in babies or toddlers. If you see a product advertised as cold medicine for a baby or toddler, it’s likely a homeopathic remedy.
Baby Medicine for Allergies
This is another condition where the adult medications are usually not appropriate. If your baby appears to have seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor about recommendations. If you are concerned about food allergies, bring your concern up to your doctor prior to introducing solid foods. Your doctor can recommend something to have on hand in case an allergic reaction occurs. Benadryl is a common recommendation, but the dosing on the package only goes down to 2 years old. Therefore, your doctor needs to tell you what dose to give. It is worth noting that children can react to Benadryl differently than adults. Adults will usually get sleepy from the medication, but children can actually become excited. Therefore, this medication should never be used to help your child sleep.
Baby Medicine Cabinet Essentials
When preparing for a baby, it’s a good idea to have certain medicine cabinet essentials on hand. The following are the items I recommend having about home before you actually need them.
- Baby thermometer
- NoseFrida or nasal bulb
- Baby Motrin or Baby Tylenol
- Medication administration device
- Nurse helpline phone number
There are the tips straight from the pharmacist’s mouth. As you can see, there are a lot of times when you will need to contact the doctor with regards to your sick baby. You will eventually get a feel for what requires a call and what doesn’t. I also strongly recommend asking your pharmacist for advice. These tips are general information, but your local pharmacist can provide more specific information for your situation.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Mom, wife, veterinary pharmacist, equestrian, ice cream lover and occasional hot mess