Medications every parent should have on hand and hopefully never need to use

Flickr, Marco Verch. CC license.

It’s 10:00 p.m. and your baby is fussy and hot. You take her temperature and discover she has a fever. You learned from your pediatrician that you don’t have to worry about the fever but since she’s uncomfortable you decide to give some pain reliever/fever reducer. Which do you choose? Acetaminophen? Ibuprofen? Both are great at relieving fussiness and fever so which one you grab from the medicine cabinet depends a bit on your child’s age.

  • Acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) is recommended for infants until they are over 6 months old. Because infant kidneys aren’t mature yet, parents shouldn’t give ibuprofen until after the 6-month mark. Acetaminophen can be given every 4 to 6 hours and is available a children’s formulation. The dose should always be based on your baby’s weight rather than age, so check out this dose chart to make sure you are giving the best dose possible.
  • Ibuprofen (brand name: Motrin or Advil) is also great to have around for older infants since you can space out the dosing and give medicine less frequently. Like acetaminophen, an ibuprofen dose should be based on weight rather than age. Most brands of ibuprofen have infant and children’s formulations. Check out this dose chart for ibuprofen dosing for infants 6 months and older.

Infants can be fussy for lots of reasons though, so if you find you are using any medication for more than a day or two, touch base with your pediatrician for more guidance. Teething, for example, shouldn’t cause enough fussiness to result in the need for pain relieving medication. If you feel your child is experiencing that amount of discomfort, put a call in to your child’s medical provider.

Vitamin D is another essential item to have on hand for almost all infants.

  • Breast-fed babies won’t get enough Vitamin D no matter how much mama is taking in, but did you know even formula-fed infants often aren’t getting enough? It takes 33 ounces of formula every day to get enough Vitamin D! Most babies won’t drink that much formula every day until 4 to 6 months, and some babies never do!
  • In Michigan, even with summer sun, the amount of Vitamin D we get through natural exposure isn’t enough to get us through, so supplements are a must for most of us, especially infants and children who are growing and using sunscreen regularly.
  • A safe Vitamin D dose for all infants (breast-fed or formula-fed) is 400 IU. Vitamin D is available in several forms. Liquid multivitamins like Poly-vi-sol will have it, as will stand-alone Vitamin D infant drops. Once children are elementary-school age, the dose increases to about 800 IU daily, and by adolescence, 1200 to 2000 IU doses are needed. As children get older, getting Vitamin D from cow’s milk (or alternate milks like almond milk) may contribute somewhat to the daily dose but remember yogurt and cheese don’t typically have Vitamin D added, so a vitamin supplement is often still recommended. It’s tough to overdo Vitamin D at the doses suggested here, so even with a typical diet taking the amount suggested here is safe. Vitamin D can be found at pharmacies and health sections in many traditional and specialty grocery stores.

Diphenhydramine (brand name: Benadryl) is great to have around “just in case”.

  • Diphenhydramine is great for kids over a year of age and can be used for relieving symptoms of itchy rashes, hives, and sometimes even runny noses. For infants under a year, Benadryl isn’t harmful, but most issues that cause rashes and runny noses aren’t due to allergy and don’t itch so Benadryl won’t help. If your baby is under a year of age and you think allergy may be an issue, talk to your pediatrician first; no reason to give medicine when it probably won’t help anyway.
  • Parents often think of Benadryl as an allergy medicine (and it is!), but it also helps anytime anything is itchy, which happens more often than you realize for kids who are messy and playing and getting into stuff. Hives also crop up in young kids more often than older kids. Hives in children aren’t usually aren’t due to an allergy but rather an immune response to a virus. Having Benadryl around will help with these symptoms.
  • Be sure to snap a quick photo of a rash in question before giving a dose of Benadryl so you can show your child’s pediatrician. That helps a lot! Benadryl rarely makes a rash go away and stay away permanently, but it sure helps the symptoms of an itchy rash. Benadryl is also dosed based on weight, not age, so here’s your reference chart.

Some creams or ointments are handy to have around too with active, growing children.

  • Antibacterial ointment comes in handy when scrapes look like they might be getting infected.
  • Cortisone cream is another handy cream to have on hand if you have kids with sensitive, “rashy” skin.

Parents often ask us what cough or cold medicines to have on hand. The short answer is none! For children under 8 years old, cough and cold medicines have been shown not only to be ineffective but, in some studies, have been shown to be dangerous. Rather than reaching for something on the medicine shelf, talk to your pediatrician when your child is ill about how to manage cold and cough symptoms.

All medications have risks of course and kids are amazingly resilient. My rule of thumb is unless your child’s life is altered by the symptoms, don’t treat it with medication! For example, fever isn’t dangerous so my mantra is to only recommend fever management when the child is acting sick. A good dose of common sense is worth a hundred doses of anything you can buy at a pharmacy.

No article on home medications would be complete without giving you Poison Control’s phone number should your curious 3-year-old get into the medicine cabinet so here you go:1-800-POISON-1. Here’s hoping you never need to use it!

– Dr. Molly O’Shea, a board-certified Beaumont pediatrician, offers traditional medicine in non-traditional ways including newborn home visits and emailing parents directly. She has practiced pediatrics for nearly 30 years and was the “Ask the Pediatrician” columnist for the Detroit News for many years. A journal editor for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she also organized the AAP’s national continuing education programming for pediatricians. Dr. Molly loves cooking, traveling and spending time with her family.

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