When should you give Calpol or Nurofen to your kids?

This blog post is not intended as medical advice – if you have any health concerns about your child consult with a healthcare professional.

It’s pretty clear from one look at the number of branded syringes in our cutlery drawer that we aren’t adverse to giving our children Calpol or Nurofen when they are under the weather.

The trouble is, it’s always been a bit of a grey area…I mean, a baby can’t tell you he’s feeling under the weather can he? He can only cry. Like he does when he’s hungry, overstimulated, tired, too hot, too cold or just damn fed up. Even an older child will try it on big time for a drop of the pink stuff.

As a new parent the sinking feeling of night drawing in is all too familiar – especially if you have a child who is a frequent waker for one of many reasons (which you will probably never get to the bottom of). It’s all too easy to start clutching at straws. Or syringes. Of the kind found in a bottle of Calpol that is.

From around 10 weeks, it’s classic to pin any general crankiness on the big-T. I’m sure it’s her teeth…look how dribbly she is. I definitely said that as I reached for a dose of Calpol pre-bedtime on those bad days. The mouse however didn’t get her first tooth until her first birthday, nine months later. That said, there were definitely moments of white teeth cutting through where it seemed to feel less of a guessing game, much further down the line than those early days.

I guess some of the time it’s more obvious. If you’ve ever had a child crashed out on the sofa mid afternoon with a fever, it’s pretty clear they need something to help them bring their temperature down – as we have been advised on many calls to out of hours healthcare professionals. Never has there been a more appropriate advert slogan – ‘If you have kids, you’ll understand’.

To make matters more confusing, Ibuprofen can be used alongside Paracetamol if really needed, or as an alternative for pain relief. But which is best to use in any given scenario? I don’t remember reading that advice in any parenting manual, and I’m certainly no expert on administration of analgesics.

That said – there is some great accessible advice online; Calpol and Nurofen to name a few. The sites contain symptom checkers and tips on coping with various ailments as well as alternative products. We have figured that ibuprofen will act as an anti inflammatory as well as pain reliever, but working out when you need an anti inflammatory – that’s up to you.

It’s something that’s always worried me – what if I’m being too liberal with the meds, or what if my fear of doing just that is causing unnecessary suffering. I have raised this question with several friends and children’s centre staff, and few seemed worried about ‘dosing them up’. It’s a piece of parenting advice freely bandied around off record at any discussion of unsettled sleepers. But what’s really going on behind everyone’s closed doors? That’s a little harder to decipher.

I suppose, there’s a lot to be said for instinct. There are lots of reasons why you might feel the need to give your child some pain relief, but it’s fair to say ‘because I’m really bloody tired‘ isn’t one of them. In our house we have had disputes on occasion over whether the kids have needed medication based on their temperament over the course of the day, and patterns over a number of days (and nights). I suppose as a parent with your child’s best intentions at heart, there is always an element of self doubt and fear of getting it wrong, versus the gut feeling of knowing something’s up with your child.

As a rule of thumb, we have tried our best by doing the following things:

  • Always make sure we have eliminated any other options first (fed, watered, changed etc).
  • Try alternatives – steam, ventilation, inhalants, teething powders and sometimes, just cuddles.
  • Be sure we have followed the label Instructions for Use regarding dosage and frequency of dose.
  • Always have a bottle of in the cupboard – if your child gets a fever in the night you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t restock when the bottle ran out.
  • Write it down – if your kid’s sick, and you’re tired too you might start questioning whether that last dose was paracetamol or ibuprofen, and was it three o’clock or one o’clock you last gave it? This is really important if you are dealing with two poorly kids.
  • Learnt through experience which type of medication works best in each different situations e.g. colds, teething – and look out for any side effects.
  • Experiment with flavours – our daughter hated the taste of orange ibuprofen, but the Calpol strawberry version was a change enough to get ibuprofen into her if ever needed in a more familiar form.
  • Keep all medicines WELL out of reach of children. High up, behind a safety catch.
  • Most importantly; if ever in any doubt, seek medical advice via a GP, 111 or 999. There is no better reassuring voice than that of a doctor, and no substitute for professional advice. 


What do you think? As parents is there a divide in the approach to how we handle pain relief at home?


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19 thoughts on “When should you give Calpol or Nurofen to your kids?

  1. Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) Reply

    Interesting post. I tend to reach for the Calpol if either of the children are clearly poorly and miserable with it. We don’t have children’s ibuprofen in the house as Jessica isn’t allowed to take it due to being on aspirin and so it’s easier just to stick to paracetamol and not run the risk of accidentally giving the wrong one. My threshold for giving Calpol is probably lower for Jessica than it is for Sophie though.

  2. Back With A Bump Reply

    A good read. We use calpol and not tried ibuprofen and know there was a story in the news recently about a baby having a severe reaction. We use cuddles, ashton and parsons etc first but if not the calpol comes out! Thanks for hosting #coolmumclub

  3. beautybabyandme Reply

    I have to say I’m very grateful to Calpol at the moment with my miserable teething child! I agree with Fran though – the Ashton and Parsons powders are great. Xx #coolmumclub

  4. Becky @ Educating Roversi Reply

    Like you, we have a good selection of those syringes in our cutlery drawer and have tried and tested both methods of medication. Nurofen seems to be the more serious of the two in my eyes. We’be used both alternatively every two hours as advised by the people on the end of the phone when we rang 111 on several occasions. Little L seemed to suffer with virus after virus in the first year, since then he’s done very well at not being ill. Just the odd cold which is when I use Olbas and Calpol if he’s looking particularly miserable. #CoolMumClub

  5. Lindsay Reply

    I used to be pretty liberal with the calpol with our second child as he was constantly fussing, but I’ve definitely wound it back over the years, as actually you just don’t know what, if any, the long term side effects of continual medication can be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s times at 3am I’ve prayed i could have just knocked him out with Rohypnol and be done with it, but a cuddle and some proper attention can do the job of calpol for a tired and irritable child most afternoons! #coolmumclub

  6. Janine Reply

    I always used to use calpol first when my kids had a temperature bit now I’m more likely to reach for the ibuprofen first as I find it brings it down quicker. I don’t have a problem with using either, I just make sure I read the dosage each time to make sure it’s correct and obviously don’t give it more than the recommended dose and only for a few days. I’ve had to write down on paper before which medicine I’ve used and when, when using both calpol and paracetamol. Usually at 3am in the morning like you said above. It’s easy to forget when you’re tired and groggy and have a screaming poorly baby in your ear.

    Thanks for hosting #coolmumclub

  7. Angela Watling Reply

    Good post topic. I have gone through all of the same thought processes as you. My husband and I really avoid taking any meds if we can avoid it (although I’ll admit to having a paracetamol a bit more routinely now I HAVE to be on the ball and entertain my toddler). My daughter didn’t get teeth until she was 10 months old, but like yours I noticed potential symptoms early. I swear the little blighters were moving around under the gums only to then cut and extreme pace once they started…

    It’s a really difficult balance. As you say, unless it’s obvious then you have to go with your instinct. I thought it would be easier when my daughter could talk but she’s still too young to honestly tell me if something hurts. She likes the taste of strawberry calpol so would say something hurt just to get it *sign*. Like you, I try all other options first. Now she’s almost 2, I generally know to give her a Calpol dose if she won’t settle to sleep for over an hour and is whiny and crying.


  8. motherhoodtherealdeal Reply

    I remember worrying hugely about administering calpol of ibuprofen but to be honest, these days…I know when I’m ill I reach for the paracetamol myself so I feel if it’s what they need to feel more comfortable when they are ill, then that’s what they need, so long as it is within guidelines. Informative post #coolmumclub co-hostessy! xxx

  9. The Mumatron Reply

    It was only recently I counted 7 syringes in our drawer. 1 a month since his 8 week jabs…hmm. I don’t really give it now, it was a bit of a wake up call. It’s too easy to pour it in like the miracle elixir! #coolmumclub

  10. alifeinpracticeblog.com Reply

    I usualy use the approach that it’s better to give it and not need it than need it and not give it, that ends with frustration for everyone in our house! (as long as you follow the guideline amounts etc of course!) xx #coolmumclub

  11. mummymiller Reply

    I tend to not give any calpol or nurofen unless it’s really needed! I’ve only finished one small bottle in 8 months, with one day of having a full on fever, so that’s not too bad! #coolmumclub

  12. theintolerantmum Reply

    Do you know you should never given ibuprofen if your child has or may have chicken pox, it reacts with the virus and makes the spots go deeper into the skin? I only recently found that out #coolmumclub

  13. Jo (Mother of Teenagers) Reply

    I remember the first time my doctor told me I could do Calpol and Neurofen intermittently – a life saver for sure – ever since then I was on it straight away every time my kids were off sick with a fever. Otherwise I am afraid I fall into the camp of if it is needed give it to them. #coolmumclub

  14. justsayingmum (@justsayingmum) Reply

    Ah this is such good post for those with smalls – obviously so much easier now that mine are older and can tell me. We used to go on fever as a good measure for calpol but sometimes we were guilty of just giving if we felt they were cranky and obviously if they had a headache and couldn’t tell us then this helped heaps! I think as mothers we really know our children and look for those out of character signs though with teens the attitude does make you wonder if they’ve just got a good dose of teenagism going on and not actually unwell! #Coolmumclub

  15. Wendy Reply

    We have loads of capillary syringes in the cutlery drawer too. It is hard knowing when to use calpol, we did use it quite a lot when Leo was teething as all the gels and powders seemed to do nothing to ease his pain.xx #coolmumclub

  16. Jakijellz Reply

    Great post. Mine will only take Strawberrt flavoured medicine. I’ve had a nightmare in the past when needing to administer antibiotics. If it’s not strawberry it’s not going in!! Thank goodness Calpol is Strawberry! #coolmumclub

  17. Helena Reply

    We tend to reach for these as the last resort. However, eldest has a habit of spitting it out so when she had a fever recently we ended up having to give her a suppository. #coolmumclub

  18. Double the Monkey Business Reply

    I always have to write meds down to keep track – especially if my eldest is also on his antihistamines. Otherwise I start to panic that I have had it all wrong. I try not to reach for Calpol, especially as the kids try it on as they love the stuff! The only time I have given them it freely was when I did a long haul flight with them, it was preventative for their ears and the doctor recommended it. x #coolmumclub

  19. crummymummy1 Reply

    I’ve always used this stuff sparingly but it does work a treat – wish I had a pick-me-up like that! #coolmumclub

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