Giving Medicine to a Baby 101: The Essential Guide

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Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Giving Medicine to a Baby 101: The Essential Guide

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. 

Drug Facts

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.

Active Ingredient

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.

Uses

This section lists the different symptoms the medication is likely to work for when dosed based on the information on the box.

Warnings

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.

Directions

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.

Other Information

This is other information that may be helpful such as how to store the medication.

Inactive Ingredients

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.

Antibiotic-Specific Tips

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. 

Having a nose suctioning device like this or this is helpful to decrease congestion.  For a full list of what you can do to help your baby feel better, check out this post.

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.


Related Content

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.


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.

Giving Medicine to a Baby 101: The Essential Guide

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.

38 thoughts on “Giving Medicine to a Baby 101: The Essential Guide

  • March 26, 2019 at 8:02 pm
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    I’ve worked in Pharma since 2003 and for many years in the pharmacy space for a popular journal so this information is near and dear to me. Pedialyte is a necessity for sure with the amount of stomach viruses that run through a house. Great tips as always.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:08 pm
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      Yes if you have multiple kids and one gets the stomach virus, you should probably just buy stock in Pedialyte!

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  • March 27, 2019 at 10:27 am
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    I don’t have any kids (yet) but this would be super helpful for if/when I do!

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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      It’s good info to keep stored in the back of your mind.

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  • March 27, 2019 at 11:47 am
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    Great insights. Baby medicines are more critical & should be the focus while storing essentials in the house.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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      There are few medications you can use for babies, but when a medication is used, it’s critical that it be done correctly.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm
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    This article is great and quite helpful! I am a big fan of kids pedialyte, it is very helpful when the kids are sickly.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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      Pedialyte is definitely good to have on hand.

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  • March 27, 2019 at 4:52 pm
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    Wonderful tips! I was well versed in the information that you find on the bottles.The tips on administering were great. I work in a daycare and infants can be tough sometimes. These methods might come in handy.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:05 pm
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      Thank you! I have first hand experience with giving medication to animals, but I wouldn’t have believed kids could be just as challenging until I had to do it.

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  • March 27, 2019 at 7:42 pm
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    I think this might be one of the most thorough guides I’ve read about treating a sick baby. Those first few weeks/months can be so scary. Thanks for sharing!

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:04 pm
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      Thanks! It’s always scary the first time they get sick, but after that, it’s not as big of a deal.

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  • March 27, 2019 at 8:11 pm
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    I think being a mom is a full time professional job in all field, nothing is left out. http://www.thecozyme.com

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  • March 27, 2019 at 9:43 pm
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    That is such a useful post! Giving medicine is never easy eap with babies. I am not a mom yet but I do believe I will need your advice soon enough (even though I hope it won’t be too often)

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:02 pm
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      It always helps to be prepared because eventually you will have to deal with a cold.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 10:21 pm
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    these are great tips to keep in mind for expecting mothers! will definitely have to share with my friend who is about to have her first daughter. 🙂

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:01 pm
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      Thank you! Hopefully they help her be prepared whenever she encounters the first cold.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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    I love how your posts are useful and straightforward! Thank you for organizing so much information in a clear, helpful way for parents. Keep it up!

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    • March 27, 2019 at 11:18 pm
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      Thank you! I try to make them as easy for busy moms to sort through as possible.

      Reply
  • March 28, 2019 at 12:31 am
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    This is a good guide! Thank you. I write on the side of my bottles with permanent marker to track the doses and days.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:21 pm
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      That’s a great way to track dosages! It’s so easy to forget to give a dose or for caregivers to both give a dose.

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  • March 28, 2019 at 12:27 pm
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    Thanks for your tips. Still many are confused in giving medication to kids especially the new parents.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:20 pm
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      Yes it can be confusing, but your doctor or pharmacist are always happy to help explain things.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2019 at 7:00 am
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    I love the way you break everything down into plain English! So many times these things get confusing when it comes to medications. Every parent should read your blog.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:19 pm
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      Thanks! I try to look at medical things through my husband’s eyes’ and explain it like I would to him. It can be really hard not knowing what is going on with something as important as medications.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2019 at 10:37 am
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    Good tips for parents to follow. Good to be reminded that we need to first read medication labels, to determine whether it is safe to use specific medicine.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:18 pm
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      There is a lot to be learned by reading the medication label as long as you don’t get intimiadated by all the words.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2019 at 2:25 pm
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    I took care of my nieces when they were babies and it’s amazing how difficult a job it is to give medicines to them. One mistake could be fatal. Thankful for informative post like this to guide new moms out there!

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:18 pm
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      Yes medications in general are definitely scarier with babies than older kids or adults.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2019 at 7:48 pm
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    That is a very helpful post indeed! I would have loved to find such a thorough advice when my first child was born! Although I must say, our local pharmacist helped us a whole lot.. Thank you!

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:17 pm
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      Yes local pharmacists are wonderful for helping new moms! All you need to do is ask 🙂

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  • March 30, 2019 at 2:13 pm
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    This is super valuable information and being a pharmacist, makes it all the more credible! I’m a labor and delivery nurse and have started a facebook page…I’d love to share this there!

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    • April 4, 2019 at 9:16 pm
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      Thanks! Of course you are welcome to share this on your page!

      Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 10:22 am
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    Great tips that I hope I won’t need but inevitably will!

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  • April 7, 2019 at 8:58 pm
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    So many great tips!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  • April 11, 2019 at 9:47 pm
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    This is an incredible resource for new parents to keep saved. Giving medications to a baby can be so stressful.

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  • April 15, 2019 at 3:09 pm
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    Great post. Many parents don’t know this info! When mine were born, they were preemies, special needs, etc. and we had SO much to learn. This would have been helpful to have back then. 🙂 Thanks!

    Reply

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