Recent heartbreaking news reported about a baby who died due to a medication overdose by his babysitter/nanny has me reeling. And although this is a tragic, outlier type event, it can awaken us to everyday ways to improve our children’s safety with over-the-counter medicines.

The tragic story: a fussy baby was mistakenly given allergy medicine to calm him down and get him to sleep after a day of crankiness. Allegedly, the babysitter unfortunately gave an adult dose of an allergy medication. Sometimes medicine side effects can impair or stop breathing. Especially at elevated doses. The lesson from this horrific story is threefold:

  1. Medicines, even those sold over-the-counter have real effects and demand our serious attention. We need to make sure medication dose is the right one. The story of this tragedy is a nightmare to even think on, but it can remind us to make sure we are always a part of every dose our children are given of ANYTHING. Every parent should know it’s not “over-the-top” to have any caregiver review medication administration with you every time for safety.
  2. Kid medicines for kids not for the adults who care for them. Medicines should be used only when necessary and not for adult convenience. Fussiness in babies is exhausting for parents and caregivers. Read about fussiness and the period of PURPLE crying here especially in early infancy that’s considered normal. We need familial and community support for parents exhausted and overwhelmed by fussy babies. And we need back-up plans for respite for caregivers to babies, but we also need to remember that medicines given to a child for the benefit of a parent just isn’t the reason they were designed or licensed. As a pediatrician I just can’t recommend using allergy medicine to knock your kid out. Just doesn’t make sense. Proper and appropriate medication dosing is paramount but using medicines only when necessary is where you have to begin.
  3. Allergy medicines, even over-the-counter medicines are not recommended for use in babies under age 2 years.

Medication Rules For Parents Everywhere

  1. If your child is in need of medication, require your child’s caregiver (grandparent, nanny, babysitter, friend, etc.) to call you to review dosing before administering the medicine. ALWAYS do this with young children, especially if they are not daily medicines. Why not?
  2. Keep the dosing devices that came with medication rubber banded to the medicine. This avoids someone reaching for a spoon to dose medication or reaching for an adult dose in error.
  3. Keep a print out of an up-to-date dosing graph on your fridge &  in your medicine cabinet. You can ask for a print out at your pediatrician’s office!
  4. I stand by what I’ve said before, no allergy/anti-histamine medication for travel or to help your child sleep! Using a medicine for parental convenience is not an indication to medicate your child. I just can’t advise that you put medicine in your child’s mouth for ease of travel or convenience.  Especially since we never know which child (and why) will have side effects.  Side effects to medications represent a huge number of visits to pediatricians and emergency rooms, especially for kids under age 5, as it’s often their first-time exposure to a medication.

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5-13 know your OTCs

This post was written in partnership with KnowYourOTCs.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs  #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.