Narrator: Giving medicine to your child can be nerve-racking. How can you be sure you're giving him the right dose? What potential dangers should you avoid? What if your child won't take his medicine or spits it out?
Christina Vo is a pediatrician in Berkeley and sits on the board of the American Academy of Pediatrics in California. She's accustomed to fielding questions about medicine safety from anxious parents like first-time mom Li, of nearby Fremont.
Dr. Vo offers five tips for administering medicine safely.
First: Get the dose right.
Pediatrician Christina Vo: The most common mistake that parents make when giving medications is giving the wrong dosage. They may mix up teaspoons for tablespoons or how often to give the medication. So make sure you double-check the dosage and how you measure the medication before you give it to your baby.
Narrator: Children are more sensitive to medications than adults are. If given the wrong dose, kids could be harmed by even some of the most common and seemingly benign over-the-counter medicines.
Read labels very carefully – you don't want to misread a number. Store the medicine in its original packaging unless the complete instruction and ingredients are right on the bottle.
Be aware that some dosages are based on your child's weight, not age.
Tip number two: Use the proper tool.
To make sure you're giving the right dose, use the measuring tool that came with the medicine. It might be a dropper, an oral syringe, or a specially marked measuring cup, for example.
Don't use a kitchen teaspoon to measure your child's medicine. They're not accurate. If the medicine doesn't come with a measuring tool, ask your pharmacist to recommend one you can use.
Tip number three: Know the rules.
Follow the directions on the packaging to make sure you're using the medicine the right way.
- Know whether to give your child the medicine on an empty stomach or not
- Refrigerate the medicine if necessary
- Give the medicine at the proper intervals
Tip number four: Coax it down.
Kids generally aren't big fans of taking medicine, especially when it tastes bad. One thing that can help is buying flavored over-the-counter medicines, or asking your pharmacist to add a flavor mix-in for prescription drugs.
You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can mix liquid medicine with a little formula or breast milk.
If your child is old enough to eat solids, find out if you can get the medicine in tablet form, crush it up, and mix it with a little food.
To help your baby swallow medicine from an oral syringe or a dropper, gently squirt the liquid between his tongue and the side of his mouth –not at the back of his throat, which could make him gag or choke.
Tip number five: Ask questions.
Don't be shy about asking your doctor or pharmacist about the medicine your child will take. You might want to make a list of questions and check them off as you get your answers.
Consider asking things like:
- What exactly is this medicine for?
- Can you go over the dosage with me?
- What are the possible side effects?
- How soon will it start working?
- Can I mix it into my child's milk or food?
- What if I miss giving my child a dose?
Li has a burning question for Dr. Vo. She wants to know how she can keep 7-month-old Caden from spitting out his medicine.
The first time she tried to give him a fever-reducer, he resisted.
Mother: It was not a very successful story. So basically he fought a lot and he spit up. I actually was not very sure how much he actually swallowed.
If your baby refuses his medicine or keeps spitting it out, you can try the trick that Dr. Vo is about to show Li.
Since Caden's a known spitter, Dr. Vo suggests that Li always have a helper present when she gives Caden medicine.
Mother: Okay, are you ready?
Doctor: Alright, you ready?
Okay, so I'll lay him down and I'm going to just show you really quick an easy way to hold him so he doesn't flip over. So I'm going to lay him on his back. Hold him with your arms right over his hips, then you can hug him like this. And that way you'll be able to make it so he won't flip over.
Mother: Mommy's here.
Doctor: So I'm going to hold his head still. So if he won't open his mouth, you can actually pinch his cheeks, and if you pinch his cheeks you can get in there…
Mother: It's not too bad.
Doctor: You have to pinch your baby's cheeks so that your fingers are between the gums and the baby can't bite down. This will prevent your baby from being able to thrust the medication out with the tongue.
Your baby will not like this, but it doesn't hurt the baby and it will help you get the medication in.
And then come sit him up and give him a big hug.
Narrator: So there you go. Caden didn't like it, but the medicine went down and he recovered.
Remember to watch your baby for any side effects, clean your tools with warm soapy water, and keep all medicine out of the reach of children.