Using Drugs to Put Your Baby to Sleep

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Based on the number of books and Web sites devoted to babies and sleep, it’s clear that sleep (or lack thereof) is one of the most important issues parents face. Sleep deprivation is a fact of life for parents from the day they bring Baby home from the hospital, through the first six months and often beyond. Some sleep problems even last well into the toddler and pre-school years.

Sleep deprivation can cause otherwise rational people to do just about anything to catch the forty winks they need. Who hasn’t heard of a parent packing his little one into the car seat at midnight and driving around and around the block until Baby finally falls asleep? Or the parent who places the car seat on top of the washer or dryer to see if the rhythm and white noise will induce slumber in her infant? In fact, a whole industry has emerged around babies and sleep, with white noise machines and toys that make “womb sounds” being among the more unique offerings. Some exhausted parents even consider using medication to help their babies sleep.

Medicine for Sleep

Most parents have probably heard stories filter down the parenting pipeline about parents who gave their baby a dose of an over-the-counter (OTC) infant medicine to get the child to sleep.

The use of OTC medicines as infant sleep aids probably began innocently enough. In what is considered a safe practice, parents use acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Motrin) to treat fevers or help with the pain of teething. Since these medications ameliorate the problem they were used for – fever or pain – babies can relax and usually fall asleep. Some desperate parents likely saw in this situation a solution for their sleep woes and began giving their baby Tylenol or Motrin so everyone could get some rest.

Or maybe a pediatrician recommended the use of a certain OTC medication, as was the case with Benadryl. Some doctors have suggested this OTC antihistamine as a sleep aid. The theory was that since antihistamines can make adults drowsy, the same effect would be seen on babies. The reverse is actually true - studies show that babies become agitated and hyper after taking Benadryl.

In addition to these pharmaceuticals, parents can be tempted by herbal remedies that promise to help babies sleep.

Is it okay to use medicine, be it pharmaceutical or herbal, to help babies sleep? The short answer is no.

Why Using Medicine is Not Recommended

Rather than try to medicate the problem, doctors and sleep experts recommend that parents accept that babies and young children have difficulty sleeping. There is no quick and easy solution. When making the effort to help their kids sleep, parents should begin with behavioral approaches and sleep training, not a trip to the drug counter.

If the problem persists or worsens, parents should consult a doctor. It is doctors and not parents who can diagnose a sleep problem and find the right solution for the child. Parents should not try to make this assessment alone and should never give their child medication without a doctor’s approval. Few general medicines actually make children sleep. Those that make adults sleepy, like Benadryl, have often been found to have the opposite effect on children. And no sleep medications currently on the market are approved for use by children.

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