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Medicines and your baby

8-minute read

If you think you’ve given your baby too much medicine, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26, or call triple zero (000) and follow the operator’s instructions.

Only some medicines are safe for you to give to your baby.

You need to take special care to ensure you only give your baby:

  • the right type of medicine
  • the right dose of medicine

It’s always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you aren’t sure what medicine to give your baby.

Are medicines safe for babies?

Babies and young children are very sensitive to medicines. They can only take medicines that are made especially for their needs.

Many of the medicines that adults can take aren’t suitable for babies. This is because babies are much smaller in size, and they respond to medicines differently.

You should take babies aged less than 6 months to see your doctor before giving them any medicine.

Many medicines can harm or even kill children.

Babies and toddlers love to put things in their mouths. You need to keep all medicines where they can’t reach them. Lock medicines in a child-resistant cupboard.

Medicines for babies and children

Medicines for children can be either:

  • prescribed by a doctor
  • bought over the counter in a pharmacy or shop

Here are some of the most common types of medicine given to babies.

Analgesics - medicines for pain and fever

In Australia, the most-used analgesics for children are:

You can use paracetamol for mild to moderate pain and fever in babies over 1 month of age.

You can use ibuprofen for mild to moderate pain and fever in babies over 3 months of age.

Ibuprofen can upset an empty stomach. It’s best to give it with, or soon after, milk or food. Ibuprofen should NOT be given to babies with asthma or a bleeding disorder.

Both paracetamol and ibuprofen come as liquid drops for babies.

Antibiotics (for infection)

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

When your baby is prescribed antibiotics, it’s important that they finish the whole course, even if the symptoms go away before they finish the supply of the medicine.

Antibiotics don’t work with viruses, including those that cause colds and flu.

Antibiotic resistance develops when you:

  • use antibiotics when they’re not needed
  • don’t take them properly

Antihistamines (for allergies)

Antihistamines are medicines used to treat symptoms of allergies, such as:

  • itching
  • sneezing
  • swelling
  • rash

There are 2 types of antihistamines available:

  1. those that make you feel drowsy (sedating)
  2. those that don’t make you drowsy (non-sedating)

Sedating antihistamines (for example, brand name Phenergan) are not suitable for children under 2 years of age.

If your baby needs an antihistamine, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Vitamins and mineral supplements

Your baby should be getting all the vitamins and minerals they need if:

Likewise, if your baby has started eating solid food and has a balanced, varied diet, they should not need supplements.

However, some babies might need vitamin and mineral supplements. These include:

  • low birthweight babies
  • babies with some medical conditions
  • infants on a vegan diet

Check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your baby.

Remember, most babies do not need vitamin supplements.

Other medicines

Parents sometimes buy over-the-counter medicines for minor health problems like constipation or colic.

Many of these medicines have not been shown to work. They can sometimes cause harm.

It’s always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving your baby any medicine.

Giving the right amount of medicine

It's also very important to give your baby the right dose of medicine.

In Australia, giving the wrong medicine dose is the most common cause of accidental poisonings in children under one year.

There are 3 actions you can take to help protect your baby.

  1. Know how much your baby weighs. This is because baby medication doses are given in terms of your baby’s weight.

  2. Learn how to give commonly used medicines (such as paracetamol) to your baby before they get sick.

  3. Put the number for the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) in your phone, in case of an emergency.

Useful tips for giving your baby medicine:

  • Know the strength of the medicine. Children’s medicines often come in different strengths for different age groups. Check the strength on the packet before you measure the dose.
  • Check the use-by date of the medicine.
  • Check the active ingredient. It’s important that you don’t give your baby more than one medicine with the same active ingredient. For example, paracetamol on its own, plus another medicine containing paracetamol.
  • Check how the medicine needs to be stored. Some medicines must be kept in the fridge.

How to get the right dose:

  • Always read the dose and measurements carefully. The dose will depend on your baby’s age and weight. Never give more than the recommended dose.
  • Shake liquid medicines before measuring out the dose.
  • Always use the measuring device provided in the package (such as an oral syringe). If there isn’t a device in the package, ask your pharmacist which device would be best.
  • Before using the measuring device, check that it can accurately measure the dose you need. Pay attention to decimal points (for example 0.5 mL).
  • If possible, ask another adult to double-check that you are giving the medicine correctly.

When you give your baby medicine, write down:

  • the name of the medicine
  • the time given
  • the dose given
  • the active ingredient

This will help you avoid over-dosing.

Don’t add medicines to infant formula — you can’t be sure your baby will get the required dose.

If you’re not sure how much medicine to give, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

If you think you’ve given your baby too much medicine, you need to act straight away. Either:

  • call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26, or
  • call your doctor, or
  • go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital

Don’t try to treat the problem until you’ve talked to the Poisons Information Centre.

Read more about how to give medications to children in this Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne leaflet.

What medicines should I avoid?

There are some medicines that you should never give to your baby.

  • Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 years unless they are prescribed by your doctor.
  • Cough and cold medicines (including nasal sprays) are not suitable for children under 6 years.
  • Chewable tablets (including vitamins) – these could cause your baby to choke.
  • Anti-nausea medicines should not to be used, unless instructed by your doctor.

You should also never give your baby any medicine that has:

  • been prescribed for another person
  • been prescribed for another condition
  • expired

Where can I get more information?

If you need more information about medicines and your baby:

  • call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424)
  • talk to your doctor or pharmacist

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2022

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