Is my baby reacting to medications?
Updated: Aug 14
Finding additive free medications for babies and children can be really tricky.
Often babies and children need medication to be given in liquid form such as paracetamol and as they are naturally unpleasant tasting, significant amounts of flavour needs to be added to mask the bitter flavour.
Not only are artificial flavours added, but also artificial colours and preservatives such as benzoates to make sure the medication lasts longer.
For most babies and children this is not a problem, but for some, these added flavours and colours and preservatives come at a cost. Sensitive babies may react with increased irritability, crying, wakefulness, reflux and behavioural issues.
While many foods also contain flavourings and food additives, there are important differences with medications.
Firstly, medications tend to have flavourings in quite high amounts compared to many foods which magnifies the reactions in sensitive babies and children. In fact it seems to be the added flavourings which cause the most problems.
Secondly, foods have to have an ingredient list on the label which lists all the ingredients that make up the food. While this is not perfect, as there are a few loopholes in the labelling regulations, it is generally possible to determine if a food contains any additives such as preservatives and artificial colours. The same cannot be said for medications, prescribed or over the counter. Only the active ingredient(s) need to be stated on the medication. Other ingredients are called inactive ingredients or excipients and they legally do not need to be disclosed on the packet.
For prescribed medications you can check the full list of active and inactive ingredients through the TGA website (google TGA). Choose the CMI information for normal wording or the PI for more chemical sounding information.
For babies who have not started food, any additives and natural chemicals are somewhat diluted through the breast milk while many medications not only provide a lot more additives but are given directly which really can pack a punch!
All the following could pose issues for the chemical or food additive sensitive baby:
Herbal biscuits or supplements which are high in natural salicylates taken to boost milk supply can come through the breast milk
Applying teething gel to soothe sore gums provides a significant amount of salicylates
A cough mixture for a coughing baby also gives a large amount of flavouring, artificial colours and artificial preservatives
A reflux suspension may also provide added artificial flavour and benzoates as a preservative
Gut settling products may contain a significant number of herbs (high in natural salicylates) as well as artificial sweeteners, flavour enhancers and preservatives such as sorbic acid
Even antibiotics may contain added flavour as part of the capsules.
Some of the above are designed to help soothe a baby and may result in the opposite while others are obviously very important if prescribed, for example antibiotics.
The point of this blog is not to direct you away from using medications for your sensitive baby or child but to be aware that many medications, especially if in liquid form, may also be providing other ingredients that could be causing or exacerbating food sensitivity issues.
Any prescribed medications should not be ceased without medical advice.
Working with a Dietitian skilled in food intolerances can help you make alternative choices or modifications to reduce the load of natural food chemicals and problematic food additives.
You may need to also consult with your doctor to see if alternatives can be prescribed to the flavoured liquid preparations and find a compounding chemist who may be able to make up the prescribed or required medicine without colours and flavourings and perhaps even preservatives.