What medicines aren’t safe for infants and toddlers?

Not all over-the-counter medications designed for children are equally safe for infants. It’s important to first read the labels to check the ingredients and possible side effects. If you aren’t sure if a medication is safe, ask a doctor or pharmacist. Besides being careful about the medications you give your baby directly, be aware that harmful medications get passed on to a baby via breast milk, as well.

New mothers postpartum are often given codeine for pain relief. However, the liver metabolizes codeine into morphine, and too much morphine may cause excessive sleepiness, difficulty in breathing or unresponsiveness in nursing babies. In addition, some medications can unintentionally increase or decrease milk supply. The FDA warns against domperidone; it’s popular for increasing milk production, yet it can lead to cardiac arrest. Other medications, such as diuretics, limit bodily fluids, ultimately reducing milk supply.

Some medications aren’t safe because they put an infant at risk for a serious illness. Aspirin, for example, is linked to Reye’s syndrome, especially when it is used to heal viral infections, like the flu. Avoid administrating aspirin or other types of salicylates to children less than 16 years old. In addition, cold and cough medications can cause serious side effects in children under the age of 6 years. Furthermore, make sure you give a baby medication that is specifically meant for infants. Adult medication is more concentrated and can contain preservatives that may harm an infant.

Even medications that are labeled as safe for infants can be harmful if they are given in double doses or after the expiry date. In addition, there are medications -- not remotely intended for infants -- that can inadvertently harm an infant. Evamist, for example, is an estradiol transdermal spray that is meant to help menopausal women combat hot flashes. However, it has been proven that if infants come into skin contact with that spray, such as accidently through a grandmother’s touch, they could be at risk for premature puberty.