0 - 3 months

How to help baby’s medicine go down

16 April 2020 | By Glynis Horning

It can be tricky administering medicine, but there are things you can do to make it easier.


It’s tough enough for a parent to deal with a sick child, and administering medicine can make it tougher, especially when you’re new to it.

The first trick is to hide your anxiety, so you don’t pass it on. Adopt a positive attitude – smile calmly and be empathetic but firm.

Also be organised: wash your hands, have everything you need handy – medicine (check instructions, doses and measurements carefully in advance) and applicator (use what is supplied, for accuracy – converting teaspoons to milliliters for a syringe, for instance, can lead to confusion).

Oral medication

A syringe or dropper is best – there’s less chance of spillage than with a spoon, and you can bypass some of the taste buds on baby’s tongue if medicine is bitter, says Gauteng paediatrician Dr Simon Strachan. Shake the medicine bottle well, load the syringe and rest it on a clean saucer.

Swaddle baby firmly in a blanket or towel so she can’t push the medicine away or kick. Sit comfortably and hold her in the crook of her arm, then carefully slip the syringe into the middle of her mouth (some parents like to slide it along the inside of one cheek to prevent gagging). Then slowly start squirting the medication into her mouth, giving her time to swallow between little squirts.

If she clenches her jaws and lips so you can’t insert the syringe, ask a helper to gently hold her nostrils together, so she opens her mouth to breathe. Afterwards give her a little milk or water to help the medicine go down, and wash the syringe in warm, soapy water. Be sure to store the medicine where instructed (fridge or a shelf), and where she and other children can’t reach it.

“Many medications, and especially antibiotics are better absorbed with food,” Strachan says. “This means the medication can be disguised in any form of food or liquid.”


Some medicines work better in this form, especially if baby is vomiting, or you are treating constipation. Lay baby on her back and take off her happy. If possible, ask someone to hold her arms and distract her while you remove the suppository wrapping.

Hold up her legs and gently slide in the suppository (round end first), using your index finger. It needs to go far enough for it not to slip out (1 or 2cm). Hold her buttocks together for a minute or two, then replace her nappy and give her a cuddle.

Ear drops

Again, swaddle baby to keep her arms and legs still. Warm the bottle of drops in your hands, then lay her on her back, head to one side. Gently pull her earlobe backwards so her ear canal opens, and insert the drops as directed.

“Once the drops are in, you should press the tragus (the flap of skin just in front of the ear hole opening) to help the drops move down the ear canal,” Strachan says. Hold her in that position for a few minutes so the drops penetrate, then turn her head and repeat for the other ear.

Eye drops/ ointment

Swaddle baby, and lay her flat on her back. Warm the bottle of drops in your hands, then gently pull down her lower eyelid and apply the drops, or a centimetre of ointment, inside the lid – hold the dropper or tube close, but don’t allow it to touch any part of her eye, even her lashes (to prevent contamination or injury). Release her eyelid so she can blink, then gently mop any excess with a clean tissue.

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