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Can I give cold medicine to my baby?

The rainy season is getting settled in and soon almost everyone will be having a cold. My 6 months old daughter already had one. Like every concerned parent, I was tempted to rush for over-the-counter cold medicines to help quickly relief her of the cold symptoms. After-all, many are sold in pharmacies for babies right? What’s the harm?

Studies show that cold and cough medicines should not be given to children under 2 years and as much as possible, avoided or given with caution for children under 4 years old.

I remember while working at a community pharmacy, I particularly found this difficult to explain to concerned parents. They would ask me for medicines that could relieve their babies and I would propose them home remedies and saline water. They will often sneak back in when I stepped out to buy medicines for cough, cold and some antibiotics (really???)

We already know antibiotics do not work against viruses, and most causes of common cold and cough are caused by viruses. Taking antibiotics for no reason is misuse and can make them inefficient in the future. So please, consult with your pediatrician before giving antibiotics to your baby.

So why not?

Why is it not advised to use cold medicines to children under 2 years?

  • Some could cause serious or life-threatening side-effects (especially those containing decongestants or antihistamines)
  • There is really no cure for cold (even for adults) neither are there meds to shorten the time, you just have to find ways to relieve the symptoms. (On average, a cold lasts 9 or 10 days).

So if I can’t use cold medicines, what can I do to help with the cold what else can we do?

  • Keep them hydrated: breastmilk (don’t stop nursing), formula, water, but avoid juice (lots of sugar)
  • Nasal drops or spray using saline water
  • Suction using a bulb syringe, won’t be easy but worth it
  • Some oranges help
  • Paracetamol to help reduce fever and pain if any
  • Honey for children above 1 year
  • Loads of cuddles and hugs to keep them warm
  • Lot of rest

Personally during that time, I do not bath the baby (especially the hair), I just wipe with warm water and keeping her warm with thick clothes (old mothers’ tips).

In less than a week, with no medical intervention whatsoever, she no longer had a cold.

You should avoid

  • Honey for children under 1 year
  • Zinc containing products
  • Mentholatum chest rubs
  • Baby should not sleep on the stomach

When to see a doctor

  • Fever higher than 38.3°C
  •  Baby looks too sick
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Refusing to eat and showing signs of dehydration (e.g. decreased urination)
  • Cold symptoms worsen or persist after 10 days
  • Persistent ear pain
  • Colored mucus
  • Vomiting

If you must use cold medicines for children under 2 years

  • Confirm with your health care provider
  • Use as recommended and use the measuring device that came with it.
  • Store safely (up and away from the reach of children)
  • Do not use medicines for adults on babies

Happy healing to your baby.


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