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Techniques for Administering Medicine

It's no treat to wrestle a squirmy, inconsolable child to get three drops of medicine into him. But when your baby is sick, medicine is often a must. Here are some effective techniques that can make your job a little easier in helping the medicine go down.

Make sure you're measuring the right amount. Over-the-counter and prescription medicine for babies comes in "infant drops," which are usually prescribed in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc), or in a liquid or "elixir" form that's measured in teaspoons (tsp). To measure, use the dosing instrument that comes with the bottle, or use one of the tools available at your local pharmacy.

There are several different ways to get the medicine down the hatch. Deciding which one can depend on your baby's age, his feeding style, and the medicine itself. Here are your options:

  • A calibrated syringe: This method gives you the most control. Insert the syringe between baby's gum and cheek, which will make it harder for her to spit the liquid out.
  • Your baby's bottle: Detach the nipple with its collar from baby's bottle and let her suck on it; then use a syringe to squirt medicine into the nipple. As baby sucks, she'll swallow the liquid.
  • Medicine dropper: When using a medicine dropper, it will help to have the baby sitting up with his head tilted back so the medicine can go straight down the hatch. Use an infant seat for kids younger than 9 months, or sit an older baby in his stroller or high chair.
  • Spoon: For kids who are 1 year or older, try a hollow-handled medicine spoon. Hold the spoon up to fill it, then tilt it down and let your child drink the medicine off the spoon's end.

Dos

  • Ask your doctor whether medicine should be given before or after meals, and if the drug needs to be refrigerated.
  • Inform your doctor if baby is taking any other medicine -- mixing certain OTC medicines with prescription drugs may not be safe.
  • Write down what time you administer medicines so you don't get confused.

Don'ts

  • Don't "double up" on the amount of medicine if you've missed a dose. Skip it, and give your baby the regular amount at the next scheduled time.
  • Don't store medicine in the bathroom; temperature changes and humidity can affect a drug's stability.
  • Never give baby medicine without asking your pediatrician first.

What if your baby just won't take his medicine? These are the next steps:

  • If your baby is over a year old, try this squirm-free position. Place a syringe filled with the right amount of medicine on a table next to you. Hold your child on your lap, facing you, with her legs on either side of your body, and lean her back on your knees. Her head should fall over the ends of your knees, slightly lower than her body. Use both arms to push hers out of the way, and then support her head with one hand. With the other hand, insert the syringe in between her cheek and teeth, and squirt in a small amount of the medicine while you gently blow on her face. With her head lower than her body and the distraction of your blowing, she'll tend to swallow as a reflex. Continue until the syringe is empty.
  • Talk to your doctor. She can select a more-concentrated form of the medicine so you'll need to give fewer doses or smaller amounts each time. She can also try to prescribe better-tasting medicines.
  • Mix the medicine with juice or food. But first ask your doctor if that's okay; some drugs lose their potency when combined with food. Use only a small amount of applesauce or grape juice so you can be sure your child has consumed all the medicine.
  • If she's old enough to talk, give your child a choice of how she wants to take her medicine. She can pick dropper, spoon, or medicine cup. Sometimes having a little control makes kids more cooperative.

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, December 2001.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.