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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