Best over-the-counter medications for your baby

Which medicines are safe to give your baby?

white pills spilled on surface

We all want to be prepared for the inevitable—our little ones are likely to experience a sniffly nose, fever, diaper rash and teething pain all during the first year of life. As a parent, you’d do anything to ease the symptoms and help baby be comfortable. Knowing which medicine to give for each situation is tricky, especially with so many products to choose from. Over-the-counter medications (OTC) are commonly available without a prescription. Even though these medications are easy to obtain, if not used correctly they can cause serious complications or even death.

To avoid dangerous dosing, always read and follow the label, never give two medicines with the same active ingredient, and use only medications designed for children. Dose medications based upon your child’s weight. If they are unusually large or small, you may want to check with your child’s health care provider for the correct dose. Stop using any medication if your child develops any side effects or reactions that concern you. Even though a medication may be safe, your child could still be allergic to it and have a reaction.

Treatment advice for specific conditions:

Coughs and colds

A runny, congested nose is often the first sign of a cold, and can make babies quite uncomfortable and hinder feeding. Despite this, avoid using cough and cold medication for children less than 6 years of age. These medications aren’t safe or effective. A better choice is to try and remove mucus from the nose with nasal saline drops and a suction device like a bulb syringe or aspirator. A humidifier in baby’s room can also help loosen the congestion.


If your baby is less than 3 months of age, and has a rectal temperature greater than 100.4, please contact your child’s health care provider immediately. This can be a sign of serious infection. In babies older than 3 months, fever is not necessarily dangerous. If your baby is uncomfortable due to fever, you can use acetaminophen (Tylenol). Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) is another option; however this should not be used in infants less than 6 months of age and can cause damage to the kidneys. Seek care if the fever lasts more than three days, baby is not eating well, lethargic, or is having difficulty breathing. Never give aspirin or aspirin containing products to any child less than 18 years old. This can cause a life threatening liver disease called Reye Syndrome.

Diaper rash

Several things can cause diaper rash. Irritation from diapers or wipes, frequent stools or yeast infection can all cause painful sores, redness or bumps in the diaper area. There are a number of techniques and OTC products to treat diaper rash.

Frequent diaper changes, warm water rinses or wipes, and even short periods of diaper-free time may help. Applying an ointment containing petroleum, lanolin or zinc oxide after every diaper change is also quite effective. Talk to your health care provider if the rash is not clearing after a few days, as there are a number of prescription options available that can help.


Teething can start as early as 4 months. Symptoms can include drooling, fussiness or difficulty sleeping. Babies may also have small elevations in temperature and the desire to chew on things. The gums around the new teeth may swell and be sore.

There are many products and supplements marketed to help with teething discomfort, but most are not appropriate or safe for baby. Pain relievers and medications that you rub on the gums are not necessary or useful since they wash out of the baby’s mouth within minutes. Some medication you rub on your child’s gums can even be harmful if too much is used and the child swallows an excessive amount. Amber teething necklaces are a known strangulation and choking hazard, and should be used only with supervision and never while sleeping.

To ease your baby’s discomfort, try gently rubbing or massaging the gums with your clean finger. Hard rubber or wooden teething toys are also helpful. Avoid frozen teethers, as the cold can injure the delicate gum tissue and cause more pain. If your child is really uncomfortable despite these measures, a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain. Do not give ibuprofen to a child less than 6 months of age.


It is normal for your baby to strain when passing stools, and for the consistency and frequency of stools to change. Hard dry stools are not normal. If your newborn or exclusively breast-fed infant seems constipated, please contact your health care provider. Older infants may benefit from small amounts of 100 percent fruit juice (pear or prune) or water. Babies eating solid foods can get relief from a high fiber diet. This could include prunes, apricots, plums, raisins, high-fiber vegetables (peas, beans, broccoli), and whole-grain cereals and bread products.

If constipation persists despite these measures, a mild laxative, stool softener, enema or suppository may be options. Check with your child’s health care provider before administering, to discuss which medication would be the most appropriate.

Poisoning and accidental ingestion

You can call the Poison Center in any state at (800) 222-1222 at any time of day or night. Call the Poison Center if you’re not sure. Don’t wait for your child to be sick, especially if you are concerned they may have ingested too much or an unsafe medication.

Sometimes parents find their child with something in his or her mouth or with an open bottle of medicine. The Poison Center can help you find out if this could hurt your child. Avoid ipecac syrup. This was previously used to help induce vomiting. It is no longer safe or recommended.

Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if your child is:

  • Passed out and can’t wake up
  • Having a lot of trouble breathing
  • Twitching or shaking out of control
  • Acting very strange

If you have any doubts or questions about OTC medications, please speak with your child’s doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Posted In Children's, Health Information

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