Seven Tips For Giving Medicine to Babies and Toddlers

Giving medicine to babies and toddlers can be stressful for any parent. I’ll be totally honest with you, I’m a Registered Nurse and even I find it overwhelming at times! 

There’s just something about the extra sleep deprivation, an unsettled bub and trying to squirt a medicine ( that can sometimes be a bit yucky) into a moving target that’s enough to stress most parents out. As if it isn’t hard enough when your little one is unwell?

In fact, it was this very issue that inspired Family HQ in the first place! 

In this post, I want to share my top tips for giving medicine to babies and toddlers. It’s important that you give the right medication at the right time. But it also makes everyone’s life much easier if you can do so with a minimum of fuss.

Medication Safety is Number One When Giving Medicine to Babies and Toddlers

All medications should be kept in a locked medicine cabinet or box that is stored out of the reach of children. Some medications will need to be stored in the fridge (such as certain antibiotics) but everyday medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol should be kept at room temperature.

You should never transfer medication from their original packaging or bottle. Always keep medication with lids firmly screwed on and labels intact so that you know exactly what you have on hand.

Here at Family HQ we also recommend that families choose one paracetamol brand and strength and one ibuprofen brand and strength, and stick to it. There are so many products and strengths on the market, it’s easy to get confused about what medication you’re giving to which child. Especially when you have more than one sick little person at home!

Here’s a crazy fact for you – did you know that there are 708 different paracetamol preparations in Australia!?

Not all of these are meant for children nor are they all available to the general public. But even so, there are enough children’s paracetamol products on the market for it to be confusing. Find one that your children “like”  and if that works for your family, stick to it. This minimises the risk of accidental overdose or administering the wrong medication. 

Know the difference between Paracetamol VS Ibuprofen. 

Something Sarah and I have seen time and time again are parents who are unsure whether they should be giving paracetamol or ibuprofen.
While they work differently in the body, studies have shown that paracetamol and ibuprofen are equally as effective in treating pain and fever in children. 

Paracetamol works to reduce fevers and minimise pain, while ibuprofen also reduces inflammation.
Another key difference between the two medications is how early they can be used. Paracetamol can be given to babies aged one month and older while ibuprofen should not be given to babies under three months of age. 

There are no reported benefits for alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen to treat fever. However, when treating pain, paracetamol and ibuprofen can sometimes complement each other when used alternatively. But please remember that if you’re alternating between two different medications (and therefore doses) it makes it easier to accidentally administer the wrong medication or dose.

That’s why tracking medications is so important! And knowing this is easier said than done, that’s exactly why we created Family HQ. 

Essentially, find what works best for your family. Some kids will respond well to paracetamol and have no troubles taking it while others prefer ibuprofen. In most cases, unless your child has a medical condition that prevents them from being able to take one or the other, both paracetamol and ibuprofen based preparations work well to reduce pain and fever in children.

Make sure you’re drawing up accurately

Generally, we don’t think of a millilitre of liquid as being a great deal. But when you’re dealing with doses of 0.6ml (for a small baby for example) adding an extra ml here and there can be a serious issue.

Accidentally overdosing your child with paracetamol or ibuprofen can affect their health both in the immediate and long-term with problems such as stomach upset and breathing difficulties. Even a small overdose given over extended periods can affect a child’s liver and kidneys. 

Always use the syringe provided in the pack. Generally, they’ll click into the bottle opening for a mess-free and easy draw-up. Once you’ve pulled the syringe back to the desired dose, hold it up to the light and check for any air bubbles, especially the case if the syringe is ‘frosted’ or not completely see-through.

Know your child’s exact weight

Medication dosages should always be calculated based on your child’s recent weight.

The on-pack dosage guides provide a general age and weight dose estimate. However, if your child weighs less than the average child their age, it’s very easy to accidentally provide the wrong amount of medication if you base the dose on their age.

It’s a bit of a hassle I know – I’ve got two little boys and sitting still isn’t one of their strengths! If they won’t stand still on the scales for long enough here are my tips. Pick them up and hold them closely to you, stand on the scales with them (try and peek around them to see the number), then stand on the scales by yourself. Deduct your weight from the first weight and that will give you a fairly accurate weight for your child. 

If your child is overweight, please seek advice from your pharmacist about safe dosing. 

How to get the medicine to go down!

It’s all well and good to get an accurate dose drawn up. But it can be another thing altogether when giving medicine to sick babies and toddlers.

Haven’t we all been there? 

Often there are tears involved, over-tired parents and kids who’ll do anything to get away from that syringe of medicine.

My first tip is to aim the syringe gently into the side of the cheek, not directly into the centre of the mouth. This minimises the risk that the medication will squirt the back of the throat, which would be enough to make most fully grown adults gag!

You’ll know your child best and whether a slow and steady approach works best or a one-and-done get it over with style. I know in my years of working in the emergency department that it all depends on the child – as long as you get it all in there!

I often advise parents to let their kids play with an old medication syringe so that it’s not something they only associate with being sick and medicine. They can use it in the bath as a water squirter or you can practice them taking fluid from it by simply filling it with water or fruit juice. 

The point here is that if you try and make it something fun, it will help reduce any fears they have about having a syringe stuck in their mouth.

Sometimes if your child is really unwell or is unable to keep medication down, a suppository may be the only option to get pain relief on-board. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you may need to ring a home GP service or your family doctor.

In the event of an accidental overdose

As I mentioned before, accidentally overdosing your child on pain medication can have serious health effects and is far more common than we’d like to think.

In NSW alone, the Poisons Information Hotline received more than 1,300 calls in a 10-month period related to accidental paracetamol and ibuprofen overdose in children. 

By following all the tips outlined in this post, as well as always following the on-pack guidelines, you’ll be doing everything you can to minimise the risk of accidentally giving your child an incorrect dose.

If in the event you do think you’ve given too much medication or the wrong medication – call the Poison Information Centre. If your child has stopped breathing or has collapsed, dial 000 immediately. 

How can Family HQ help?

As mums to 5 little boys under the age of 7 between us, Sarah and I both know how hard it can be to keep track of who gave what medication and when. 

Like those middle of the night, fridge light scenes when you scribble down dosage times and amounts on a scrap of paper. Or that dreaded moment when the doctor asks when was the last time you gave your child paracetamol and you can’t be 100% sure as you were up 5 (or more) times the night before!

Even as health professionals, we know that feeling because we’ve been there too. It was after one of those very nights that I thought – “there has to be something out there to help with this”.

But there wasn’t. At least not one that was simple to use and allowed both parents to view all the information we knew would be useful when their kids were unwell.. 

Sarah and I decided there had to be a better way. Giving medicine to babies and toddlers is hard enough! That’s why we wanted to create an easy-to-use and effective tool for parents to help them accurately track fevers, symptoms, medications, doses, and times. 

The Family HQ App – is a medication tracker designed to help parents accurately track essential information when their child is sick.

If you want to find out more about The Family HQ App, you can check it out here.

Liz xx

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