Giving OTC medicine to infants requires careful attention. Parents can easily find and buy Over-The-Counter (OTC) medicines. However, safe use requires effort. A recent report from a leading pediatric journal noted that as many as 84% of parents at one time or another may give the wrong dose of an OTC liquid medicine.

The wrong dose of an OTCs can lead to a dangerous situation for a baby or young child. Parents must read and understand the instructions and dosage information of the medicine. Talk to your child’s pediatrician before giving any new OTC medications.

OTC Medicines to Avoid


Never give your child aspirin or any medication containing aspirin. It can make a child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness that attacks the body’s liver. Always check to make sure that a medication is aspirin-free by reading the label or asking your doctor or pharmacist. Look for ingredients such as “salicylate” or “acetylsalicylic acid.” For fever or pain relief, use acetaminophen or ibuprofen products instead of aspirin.

Cough and Cold Medicines

Parents of children under the age of 4 should avoid OTC cough and cold medicines.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that parents not give these medications to infants and children under 2 based on a 2008 safety review. The agency found that potentially life-threatening side effects. Some of the health problems that have occurred include convulsions, rapid heart, decreased levels of consciousness, and even death.

While rare and mostly due to incorrect dosage or accidental ingestion, parents should always use caution. For more about the FDA cough and cold guidelines for infants, see their article entitled, “An Important FDA Reminder for Parents: Do Not Give Infants Cough and Cold Products Designed for Older Children.”

The pharmaceutical industry voluntarily changed labels on OTC cough and cold medicines to promote proper use. In fact, manufacturers now include no dosage information on these medicines for children under 4.

Additionally, most experts believe that cough and cold products do not work treat symptoms of children under 6. They believe they will not shorten the length of time of a child’s cough or cold.

Anti-nausea Medications

Do not give your baby any type of anti-nausea medication unless your pediatrician specifically recommends it. Anti-nausea medications can lead to possible complications. Baby and child vomiting tends to run its course quickly. Therefor, babies and children usually can get through it without any medication.

Guidelines for Using OTC Medicine

Clear infant medicine bottle with dropper

Liquid OTC medications pose a challenge to parents of infants


Liquid medicines for babies and children poses the greatest challenge to parents with a sick child. Studies show that parents who use a syringe dispenser, as opposed to a cup, make less dosing errors. When given prescription or advised use any liquid medicine for your child, make sure you know the exact amount to give and how to measure it.


Even though they are not tablets or capsules, babies and young children easily choke on chewable tablets. If your child is eating solid food and you want to use a chewable medicine, mash it and then mix it in a soft food such as yogurt or applesauce.

Cough Drops/Lollipops

Cough drops and medicated lollipops are a choking hazard for young children and should be avoided.

Safety Tips for Giving OTC Medicine to Infants

Never give a child medication that is labeled only for adults.
Only give medicine that treats your child’s specific symptoms.
Be careful if you are giving more than one medication to a child. Make sure that the medications do not have the same type of active ingredients (such as an antihistamine, a decongestant, a cough suppressant, an expectorant, or a pain reliever/fever reducer).
Carefully follow the directions for how to use the medicine in the DRUG FACTS part of the label. These directions tell you how much medicine to give and how often you can give it.
Only use measuring devices that come with the medicine or those specially made for measuring drugs.
If your child develops any side effects of concern, stop giving the medicine and contact a doctor immediately.
Keep all medicines out of reach of children.

Remember to contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about OTC medications and your child.