sick baby looking out of window

I’ve come to trust my gut instincts more and more when it comes to dealing with the common sicknesses my kids encounter. And I’ve thought a good bit about why we do what we do – spooning out the grape-flavored meds – when our kids do get sick. Do our kids really benefit from medicines, or do we cause more harm than benefit?

We usually medicate our kids for three main reasons:

  1. Because they’re uncomfortable, in pain, hurting in some form or another. We give medicine to lower fevers, to ease the pain of teething, to soothe a sore throat
  2. Because we believe (rightly or wrongly) that the medicine will help cure the pain. We give antibiotics to help our kids get over an ear infection or a nasty case of the stomach bug. 
  3. Because we want to prevent the pain/sickness from getting worse. That’s why we use topical antibacterial cream on cuts and scrapes; it doesn’t usually help the wound to feel better. In many cases, it stings more. But we know that preventing infection is important, so we use medicine.

Now I’m not a doctor; I’m just a Mom. But what I’ve found in my own experience and research is that the first reason for giving medicine is usually the most common. It’s easy to give kids a pain killer or cold medicine, because they’re readily available over-the-counter and because, as Moms, we don’t want our kids to be in pain. (We also would like to sleep through the night, or at least for more than one hour at a time during the night, and let’s face it, medicine can be a big help with that.) But the problem with a quick-medication response to any little fever or pain is that our attempt to ease the symptoms can often extend the actual sickness.

Dealing with fever is an easy example on this. A fever is the body’s natural response to bad stuff happening in the body, to put it in very simple terms. The fever is effectively killing off what is causing the sickness, so when we respond by medicating the fever, we actually reduce the body’s ability to heal itself. I’m not saying that you should never treat a fever. I am saying that we should know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it when we give our kids medication, and we should be aware of the overall effect the medicine has on them.

Natural remedies, from gentle herbal treatments to symptomatic relief without internal medicine, such as a warm bath to relax muscles or a steam treatment to clear up mucus, can help relieve symptoms without causing other hindrances to the body. Even with natural remedies, however, Moms should use good common sense and fact-checking skills so they know what they’re doing.

The same concept, that the treatment hurts the body’s natural healing ability, can also be true when we go overboard with using medicine to prevent something worse from happening. It’s a common discussion in medical circles that antibacterial over-use can diminish the body’s ability to deal with invading bacteria. Since none of us are Super Mom enough to prevent our children from ever contacting nasty bacteria, we’d do better to build up their bodies’ natural defense systems. 

Medication is an important part of our world, and a huge help in dealing with the sicknesses our kids do face. I’m happy to have the medical knowledge we do, but I don’t want to succumb to the danger of going the easy route. I prefer what is actually best for my kids. The goal, after all, is not just to get them past today’s cold but to help them build up active, healthy bodies for an active, healthy adulthood.

Image: Leann_B.