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5 Things to Know When Your Baby or Child is Prescribed Antibiotics

5 Things to Know When Your Baby or Child is Prescribed Antibiotics

Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN

If your little one is under the weather, you may wonder if it is time to bring antibiotics on board. While many bugs are due to a viral cause and may need to run their course, there are times when your child may be prescribed an antibiotic to help them feel better.

5 Things to Know When Your Baby or Child is Prescribed Antibiotics

If your baby or child has been prescribed antibiotics, here are five things to know!

5 Things to Know When Your Baby or Child is Prescribed Antibiotics

Antibiotics Are for Bacterial Infections

If your little one is unwell with a cold, there’s a good chance it’s viral. And if your child attends daycare, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that up to six to eight colds can be expected in a year.

While most colds will go away on their own, there are times when they can develop into an ear infection with a bacterial cause or a secondary infection. Your provider will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection in these instances.

Antibiotics for Strep Lessen the Risk of Complications

If your child seems to have a sore throat or complains of one if they are verbal, you may immediately conclude that it is strep throat. While most cases of a sore throat are viral, especially if your child is less than three years old per the AAP, some cases are due to strep.

And if your child’s sore throat is caused by strep, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics since this bacterial infection can have significant consequences if it isn’t treated. The bacteria that cause strep can also lead to scarlet fever and potentially acute rheumatic fever if left untreated. While rheumatic fever is rare, it may result in long-term heart damage.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), taking the appropriate antibiotics for strep shortens how long symptoms last and prevents the development of serious complications like rheumatic fever.

Antibiotics Can Cause Side Effects

When a healthcare provider prescribes a medication, they weigh the risks versus the benefits of taking the medication. While most children will experience minimal, if any, side effects from medications, the AAP explains up to 20% of children prescribed antibiotics may have side effects.

Common side effects of antibiotics per the AAP include:

  • Rashes
  • Allergic Reaction
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pain

what to Know When Your Baby or Child is Prescribed Antibiotics

In terms of rashes, not all are due to an allergic reaction. And illnesses themselves can cause rashes in kids. However, if it happens shortly after taking the antibiotic, especially if it looks like hives (red welts that can be of various sizes), there’s a pretty good chance it could be an allergic reaction. So call your child’s healthcare provider or seek medical care elsewhere if it is after hours and you are concerned about an allergic reaction.

One of the more serious side effects of taking antibiotics is the possibility of a Clostridium difficile (aka C difficile or just C diff) infection. The AAP explains that C diff is naturally present in children's guts and that when a child takes antibiotics for an infection, the medication kills off both the good and bad bacteria in the gut.

This can result in an overgrowth of C diff bacteria. The C diff bacteria create a toxin that damages the gut lining, resulting in severe diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms.

Fortunately, you can test for C diff and treat it. However, it is an example of why healthcare providers only prescribe antibiotics when necessary since there are possible serious side effects with their use.

Antibiotics Don’t Always Work Immediately

It can take some time for antibiotics to do their job. In fact, the AAP explains it can take up to three days to see improvement. In the meantime, your healthcare provider may recommend treating symptoms of the infection with acetaminophen (commonly known as children’s Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (commonly known as children’s Motrin®) as appropriate.

However, if two or three days go by and you are still waiting for improvement, contact your healthcare provider for advice. They may want to switch your child’s treatment to a different antibiotic.

And, if you notice your child is getting worse at any point, reach out to your healthcare provider or seek medical care. For example, your child may need a more effective antibiotic to treat their infection.

Take the Entire Course

We get it. Trying to convince a sick child to take medicine that may or may not taste great can be challenging. And, if you have a sick little one at home, you are likely feeling exhausted from caring for them. This can lead to situations where your child only takes part of a dose or a dose is forgotten.

In most cases, you can safely administer the missed dose as soon as you realize the mistake and then continue with the next dose as scheduled—even if the doses are a little closer together than they would be otherwise.

However, if your child isn’t taking their meds at all or you’re unsure if your child can safely have two doses closer together, reach out to your healthcare provider or your pharmacist. Pharmacists can sometimes mix your child’s medications with various flavors to help their meds taste better. And either your pharmacist or your child’s healthcare provider can counsel you on what to do about missed doses if you have questions.

what parents need to know about giving a baby antibiotics

Key Takeaways

It can be challenging to have a baby or young child who is sick. And, like any parent, you likely want medication to make them feel better quickly!

Unfortunately, many illnesses are caused by viruses. However, if a bacterial infection is to blame for your child’s illness, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe the appropriate antibiotic. If your child is prescribed an antibiotic, watch out for any possible side effects or allergic reactions, ensure they take the entire course of meds, and reach out to their healthcare provider if they don’t seem to be getting better after a couple of days.

And, of course, extra hugs and snuggles are always an appropriate “prescription” to help your little one feel better.

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Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.

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