Babies and Medicine: What’s Safe and What’s Not
Protecting your new little baby from sickness is one of the biggest concerns of new parents. Because your baby’s immune system is immature, she doesn’t have a strong ability to fight off pathogens. When your baby gets sick, your first instinct may be to head to the medicine cabinet for a solution. But be careful about what medications you give your baby and how much you administer. Babies and medicine are a serious topic so know what’s safe and what’s not for your little love.
It can be pretty scary when your baby gets sick. Whether it’s a stuffy nose, bad cough or a fever, it is painful to watch your baby suffer. Before you go into your new parent flip-out mode, remember: most of the time, getting sick is not life-threatening, even for babies. However, being vigilant of your baby’s symptoms and taking the appropriate action is important.
While uncomfortable and alarming, a fever is a sign that your baby’s immune system is working properly. That is, it’s trying to fight off whatever foreign substance is attacking her system. Between the antibodies you’ve provided your baby at the end of pregnancy and those she’s getting through breast milk, your newborn will slowly begin to build her immune system. Then after two months she will begin getting shots to further protect her from a variety of serious diseases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says to call your pediatrician if: your baby is under 3 months and has a 100.4°F fever, is 3-6 months and has a temperature of 101°F, or if your baby is 6 months or older and has a fever of 103°F. Also, if your baby has a fever combined with severe symptoms like vomiting, trouble breathing, extreme lethargy, refusal to eat, or constant diarrhea, call your doctor immediately. And if fever lasts for 3 or more days consecutively, consult your pediatrician.
Newborns under 3 months should not be given any medication outside of a doctor’s care. Typically, newborns that have a fever of 100.4°F or higher are given a urine and blood test. Dangerous bacterial infections are more common in babies, and due to weaker immune systems, newborns can get pneumonia or kidney infections. If your baby develops this level of fever outside of office hours, take your baby to the emergency room at the nearest hospital, preferably a children’s hospital. Again, it is unlikely that your baby has a serious problem but it is better to be cautious at this early stage in life.
After 3 months, if your baby gets sick, consult your doctor before administering any medication. Most pediatricians will allow babies over 3 months of age to take acetaminophen (children’s Tylenol). However, be extremely careful with the dosage. Overdosing your baby by giving too much medicine at one time or giving the medicine too frequently is very harmful to babies. In a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, overdose of acetaminophen was the most common medication mistake for babies in the U.S. in the past decade. Usually this was a caregiver error rather than babies accidentally ingesting it. Remember that if you are giving your baby more than one type of medicine, both may contain acetaminophen and therefore your baby may exceed the recommended dosage.
With a doctor’s approval, babies over 6 months of age can take children’s ibuprofen to reduce a fever and relieve symptoms. Babies should never take aspirin, cold & cough medications (even children’s formulas), anti-nausea drugs, adult over-the-counter medications, medications prescribed to someone else or expired medicines. Also, never give your baby a chewable medication. All dosages of baby-safe medicines should be administered in liquid form.
Babies and medicine can be a dangerous combination if caregivers are unaware of what’s safe and what’s not. Make sure you and all of your baby’s caregivers know which medications she can take, how much and how often. Also always consult your pediatrician before starting your baby on any medication.