How To Recognize And Treat Pain In Your New Baby

Your over the counter pain reliever playbook

crying baby and sibling
flickr / Donnie Ray Jones

Here’s a crazy thing people used to believe: Infants don’t feel pain. That idea was based on ancient research in which some scientists poked babies while they slept to see what happened. When the babies didn’t respond they were all, “Welp, guess babies are impervious to pain.” Which meant a lot of suffering for babies thanks to a bunch of pricks.

Spoiler alert: babies can feel pain. Any mother with an infant suffering an earache could tell you that much. But that doesn’t answer the question of what you should do when your kid is feeling some serious discomfort. Do you go for the over the counter (OTC) pain meds? Just let them ride it out? Send them to their grandmother so she can deal with it? Here’s the lowdown.

Infant Pain Facts

It is incredibly difficult to tell what’s bringing down a crazy fussy crying baby. Maybe it’s colic. Or maybe it’s a painful diaper. It could even be exhaustion. You can’t know because, of course, they don’t have the ability to tell you what’s happening. Unlike you, who has the ability to tell everybody what’s happening. And, look, they all get that your quads are sore after leg day, alright?

Here are some signs of pain:

  • High pitched, insistent crying
  • Grimacing
  • Squeezing eyes shut
  • Wrinkled brow
  • Tense body
  • Limbs pulled in
  • Refusing food
  • Can’t be comforted

If your kid is younger than 3-months-old and these signs are accompanied by a fever, it’s important to call your pediatrician. High fevers in infants can be a sign of rare but serious illnesses like meningitis. It’s extremely important not to just reach for the OTC fever reducers. That could remove an important diagnostic tool from your doctor and put your kid at risk for complications due to infection.

OTC Warnings

There are a couple of very important things to remember before even approaching OTC pain and fever medications to ease your kid’s discomfort.

Fevers Can Be Good

There is very good research out there suggesting that kids who have fevers before their first birthday are generally more able to deal with the nasties that the world throws at them.

Never Aspirin

If you’re going OTC, stay away from aspirin or aspirin-containing meds for kids under 18. It has been linked to a rare and deadly disorder called Reye’s syndrome.

Know The Active Ingredient

It may be tempting to give your kid different medications for different symptoms, but these often contain the same active ingredient. That means your kid could get more than they should get.

Always Ask the Doc

Before dosing your kid, call your pediatrician and make sure you’ve got the right dosage and schedule lined up. That’s their job! How convenient!

Dosing The OTC

It’s important to know that medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen have not been tested in small children. With that in mind, there are dosing guidelines for kids between 6 months and a year old. These guidelines are based on weight. Considering how fast kids grow, always keep track of your kid’s current heft before giving them pain medication.

Any questions always benefit from a pediatrician’s guidance. In fact, discussing pain relief plans during regular pediatrician visits is a good way to have the most current information. After all, regular weigh-ins occur at the office. Which, strangely, is the most painful part of your own check-ups.

Here a few guidelines for giving your kid pain relievers:

  • Understand Measurement Abbreviations: mL? Tsp? Tbsp? mg? oz? OMG! FML!
  • Don’t Do It In The Dark: Take time to turn on a light, read the label, and get the right dosage, even if it’s 3 in the morning.
  • Only The Kid’s Version: Never ever give a child the adult formulation of an OTC.
  • Use The Right Measuring Tool: That tool is whatever came with the medicine in the first place. Once you’ve used it, wash it out and put it back with the medicine immediately.

Other Ways To Help

It’s been shown that soothing babies by giving skin-to-skin contact is helpful. This is why nursing can be a huge help to kids who are experiencing discomfort. It also helps that breastmilk is sweet. In a pinch, you can dip a pacifier in sugar-water for a similar effect. Just don’t use honey, which can cause botulism in infants.

Finally, a dim quiet room and your loving attention is probably the best thing you can give to your baby when they are feeling pain. Look, you’re already smarter than those baby-poking scientists. By a long shot.