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The pink stuff treats upset stomach and diarrhea, but the original Pepto-Bismol formula isn’t recommended for kids. Here’s what parents need to know.

By Nicole Harris
April 02, 2021
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Kids and stomach aches go hand-in-hand. Sometimes you can pinpoint the cause (like that carton of ice cream they snuck from the freezer) and other times you're left scratching your head. Either way, it's easy to reach for that bottle of Pepto-Bismol in your medicine cabinet. The "pink stuff" effectively treats many digestive problems—but you probably want to think twice before using it on kids. 

An image of Pepto Bismol on a colorful background.
Credit: Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

Most Pepto-Bismol products (such as the Original Strength Liquid) are only safe for those 12 years and older. That's because they contain ingredients that may be harmful to young bodies, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Children ages 2-11 must use a specifically formulated option called Pepto Kids. Here's everything parents need to know.

Why Kids Shouldn't Have Pepto-Bismol

Pepto-Bismol can help treat upset stomach, nausea, gas, and diarrhea. The main ingredient is bismuth subsalicylate—and since 2003, the FDA has urged anyone under 12 to avoid it.  What's the reason? Bismuth subsalicylate is a derivative form of aspirin, which might cause Reye syndrome in children.

Reye syndrome is a rare but potentially life-threatening illness that doctors don't fully understand. It's linked to kids using aspirin products during a viral illness, and it most often affects the brain and liver. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Reye syndrome typically appears after a child shows improvement from the viral infection. "However, then he abruptly starts to vomit repeatedly and frequently every one or two hours over a twenty-four to thirty-six-hour period, becoming lethargic or sleepy, which then turns into agitation, delirium, or anger," the organization says. Soon the child may experience confusion and, if allowed to progress, Reye syndrome could cause seizes, coma, or death.

"Since the medical community issued a public warning against the use of aspirin during viral illnesses, the number of cases of Reye syndrome has decreased greatly," says the AAP. "Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not give aspirin or any medications containing aspirin to your child or teenager when he has any viral illness, particularly chickenpox or influenza." 

Pepto Kids: The Child-Safe Version of Pepto-Bismol

To address this issue, Pepto-Bismol began manufacturing a chewable version of their medicine that's safe for children ages 2-11. Called Pepto Kids, it relies on calcium carbonate instead of bismuth subsalicylate, so it doesn't come with a risk of Reye syndrome. 

Pepto Kids can treat upset or sour stomach, heartburn, and indigestion. If giving it to your child, check the label for dosage information; it largely depends on their weight and age. Still, it might be best to consult your pediatrician before giving any over-the-counter tummy meds to kids.

Other Solutions for Tummy Troubles

Just because your child can't have original Pepto-Bismol doesn't mean they should suffer from stomach issues in silence. Parents can give the child-safe version, Pepto Kids, to anyone over 2 years old (preferably with a doctor's approval). Also consider these natural remedies for gastrointestinal distress:

  • Offer kids plenty of fluids (such as water or re-hydrating drinks like Pedialyte) to prevent dehydration. Frequent and small doses can help keep the liquids down.
  • Encourage sick children to get plenty of rest. Wake them every few hours to replenish their fluids.
  • Avoid foods with high fat and sugar contents, since these could trigger their digestive issues.
  • Consider trying the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) once vomiting subsides. These bland foods are easy on an upset stomach, but they lack necessary nutrition, so transition your child back to normal eating as soon as possible.

Most tummy issues go away on their own. But you should call the doctor if you notice signs of dehydration, high fever, severe gastrointestinal issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), bloody stool or vomit, or other worrisome symptoms.

The Bottom Line

The original Pepto-Bismol is only safe for kids 12 and up. Pepto Kids is safe for kids ages 2-11.

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