Kids' Health

Everything You Need to Know About Antibiotics for Babies

We're not saying your kid never needs antibiotics. But they don't need them nearly as often as you think.

Most parents will do just about anything to ensure their sick baby feels better. They’ll buy expensive humidifiers, take days off work to dote and fuss, and rush to give their kid medicine, even if it doom thousands of Americans to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So maybe it’s not that simple, but antibiotic resistance is ultimately the trickle-down effect of millions of parents demanding antibiotics for babies. The worst part? Many of those demands for antibiotics are unnecessary, or even potentially harmful to the baby.

The truth is children who get antibiotics when they don’t need them increase the rates of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in the environment, endangering the lives of people with compromised immune systems (older people, sick people, pregnant people) and ultimately everyone else. It is crucial for parents to know when to ask for antibiotics and when to resist the urge.

So, take a deep breath and learn a bit more about when — and when not — to ask your pediatrician for antibiotics.

When to Ask for Antibiotics for Babies

Antibiotics are only good for bacterial infections. Note that viruses and bacteria can both cause some common infections. Ear infections are a prime example. This is why your doc might want to wait to prescribe antibiotics if your kid appears to have ear-infection symptoms such as crying and ear pulling.

Here are the things that may prompt your pediatrician to prescribe antibiotics:

  • A prolonged fever of 100.4 in babies under 3 months
  • A prolonged fever over 102 in babies older than 3 months
  • Bacterial pneumonia diagnosed via a chest X-ray
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Whooping cough

When You Don’t Need Antibiotics for Babies

There’s a ton of stuff your kid might get that will be miserable but in no way related to a bacterial infection. A sickness like the common cold, for instance, is viral and untreatable with antibiotics.

Consider these things that also can’t be helped by antibiotics:

  • Colds and flus
  • Snot of any color
  • Hand, foot, and mouth
  • Bronchitis
  • Croup

Good Antibiotic Guideline

This is not to say that your kid will never need antibiotics. They might. Shit happens. So if you’re going down the antibiotic road, make sure you’re doing it right. Give your kid all of the antibiotics prescribed, no pill left behind, even if they appear to be feeling better. You might consider giving your kid probiotics to help with diarrhea and other side-effects of antibiotics. As with any medical decision, talk with your pediatrician first.

Antibiotic Complications

A lot of the bacteria in your kid’s body is actually doing important work, and when your kid takes antibiotics, even the good bacteria in their system are wiped out. This can lead to stomach pain and diarrhea, and that’s not the worst of it. Researchers for a study published by the American Society for Microbiology found while babies’ good gut bugs do return after antibiotic treatment, they are way less genetically diverse.

Those findings could be the key to why additional research into the subject shows a high correlation between obesity and allergies in people who had courses of antibiotics as children. So maybe ask for that chest X-ray before you treat your kid’s pneumonia with antibiotics.

Chill With the Pill

Nearly a quarter of all the drugs prescribed to children are antibiotics. An estimated 30 percent of those prescriptions were likely unnecessary. The reason this should freak you out is that unnecessary antibiotics can cause your kid’s bacteria to develop drug resistance. Sadly, bacteria don’t just stay in one place. They get out into the world, multiply and become superbugs.

And it antibiotic abuse doesn’t just happen with kids. The bulk of society has been gleefully misusing antibiotics for decades, inching us closer and closer to a post-antibiotic world where people will die of stuff only our great-grandparents used to die of. (See: gonorrhea.)

However, with a good head on your shoulders (and some patience) your kid will kick that cold or flu in no time. And if you wait it out before asking for antibiotics, you just might be doing your part to save your grandchildren. You can lord it over them until the day you die. Hopefully, not from gonorrhea.