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

If your baby clenches their jaws and lips so you can’t insert the syringe, ask a helper to gently hold their nostrils together, so they open their mouth to breathe. Afterwards, give them 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 they (and other, older 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 their back and take off the nappy. If possible, ask someone to hold their arms and distract them while you remove the suppository wrapping.

Hold up their 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 the buttocks together for a minute or two, then replace their nappy and give them a cuddle.

Ear drops

Again, swaddle baby to keep their arms and legs still. Warm the bottle of drops in your hands, then lay them on their back with their head to one side. Gently pull the earlobe backwards so their 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 your child in that position for a few minutes so the drops penetrate, then turn their head and repeat for the other ear.

Eye drops/ ointment

Swaddle baby, and lay them flat on their back. Warm the bottle of drops in your hands, then gently pull down their 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 the eye, even the lashes (to prevent contamination or injury). Release their eyelid so tehy can blink, then gently mop any excess with a clean tissue.

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