How to Decide When to Give OTC Medicines to Your Child – Part 2

This article is part of a video series with Dr. Changa Kurukularatne, a specialist in infectious diseases and internal medicine; he is a father of four. Dr. Changa has worked in multiple countries from the U.S. to New Zealand and Singapore.

Dr. Linnea: So I’m gonna play the devil’s advocate for a moment and say, I feel that, at least I know in my case, and I’m sure a lot of moms and parents can relate to this, sometimes we take into consideration the fact that a high fever or pain, and especially in the evening, is going to impact the night for the whole family because then the child doesn’t get sleep, the family doesn’t get sleep, and God knows how much sleep’s important for moms. And this is going to impact, I mean, we feel that it will impact their recovery as well as our level of stress. So, you mentioned trusting the parents’ instincts, how do you feel this comes into play? Like what is your feeling around this?

Dr. Changa: That’s a great question. And I can relate to that in many ways. To give you an example that is not directly answering your question would be this. There are many times that I have to get some very important work done. So I’m on my computer and I’m trying to finish a piece of writing. Or I have all my thoughts gathered, and it’s at that exact moment where my four kids will come charging at me with whatever is going wrong. And, rightly or wrongly, I do regulate the amount of screen time that my children get, and that’s a very interesting topic by itself, you know, how much is too much. And then, I don’t think we’ve really figured that out yet. So, as parents, I’ll have to figure this out for ourselves.

It’s so easy for me to say, “Here, take my phone and leave me alone to do my work.” And that would really make or break my day. But then I have to stop and think, “Okay, this is so tempting because I could just give them my phone, and they can do whatever they want with it. And then I can just get back to work and the world would be fine.” And every time I have the urge to do that then I have to kind of pull back and say, “What am I working on? Is this project…” I try to ask myself these three questions, why, why, and why?

Sometimes by the time I get to the third “why,” I realized, I mean, this can be, you know…pick up your baby, take a break, and I am aware of the fact that I have that luxury where I can stop this and do that for a while. And there are millions of parents that that’s not possible because of circumstances. This is work that I’m doing myself. But if I’m working for somebody else, I can’t put that on hold just because there’s somebody at home. So, I’m extremely sensitive to the realities of life.

And I would approach the nighttime crying very similarly. Many times where I had to work the next day and I’ve just finished a shift, when my wife was home-schooling, we would take turns where I would say, “Okay, you have to home-school the children tomorrow, I have to work tomorrow,” but then one of us would either take the baby out for a walk or something to help calm down before reaching for the medicines.

We’ve used white noise a lot, and you can just Google “white noise for babies,” and it can really be something that helps in those situations, or a fan, or something humming. My trick was if I take them for a little drive in a car, even five minutes, they will fall asleep. And then I would carry them back to bed and everything will be fine. So, I urge parents to really be creative and figure out, is it a five-minute drive, is it some white noise, is it a fan that needs to be humming in the background to help the situation? If so, use those first.

Again, realities are not everybody has a car. Not everybody has a partner to help, many people are doing this alone. And when that time comes, I’m a firm believer that caregiver’s sanity is priority. As long as we’re not actually harming the baby long-term, if the mom or dad who’s doing this all by themselves need their space, their sanity to then enable them to function and take care of children better, then that takes priority. A good analogy is, again, in aviation, when the oxygen mask falls, you’re always supposed to put it on first and then help your children. So, we must not abandon ourselves in this process.

And I’ll go one step further and say that we have created this for ourselves as a generation because when I was little and growing up, my grandmother was living in the same house as we did. So, mom and dad were very busy working, but there was Grandma who could rock us to sleep, and they look after us all next day. So, when we’ve gotten away from the community…And I do remember, if Grandma wasn’t there, we could have easily asked our neighbor for help. So we’ve really gotten away from that extended family and that community support to a very nuclear family. And we know this firsthand because when we move to Singapore, my parents were still in Sri Lanka, it was just us, and the kids and we didn’t have any friends there, we were just completely by ourselves. So, these are the real-life things that we can’t ignore.

So, my a final summary message to moms and dads out there would be don’t reach for the over-the-counter medicine unless it’s absolutely necessary. Every medicine will have a side effect, but you are, as you said, the chief medical officer and the chairman of the board and the presidency of your company. So, along with that comes a responsibility of making decisions that you can’t find in any protocol, that you can’t find in any guideline, that you as a parent, as the captain of the ship, will have to make, and we respect that, and we are here to help you through that process.

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Written by Dr. Linnea Passaler

A surgeon and mom of a three, all currently under the age of five, Dr. Linnea is MamaDoctor's founder. She believes healthy virtual spaces where people can share their honest concerns and get help from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, change lives for the better. She is an advocate for maternal mental health and wellbeing.