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To Grandma’s house we go… Is it ok to sedate your baby for travel?

20 Dec

A few weeks ago Mr Wonderful announced that his work Christmas party was coming up and he would be flying to Sydney to attend. Since his parents live in Sydney, I thought why not kill two birds with one stone? While Mr Wonderful was off having a ball with his colleagues, I would take Boy Wonder up to spend some quality time with his grandparents. So, to Grandma’s house we went…

I was overcome by a feeling of calm and serenity. We had successfully completed our maiden voyage to Sydney and back with Boy Wonder when he was just eleven weeks old. He was a perfect specimen of baby back then. About three hours of air travel in total, and not a peep out of him the entire time. Surely travel with a twenty week old would be just as easy? Oh how wrong we were! Yes that’s right folks, my baby had the audacity to cry on the plane. My usually placid, happy child turned into a screaming, crying demon child! I broke into a sweat as I felt all eyes lock on us and saw people nudging each other then pointing in our direction. “Oh my goodness,” I said turning to Mr Wonderful. “It’s happened! We’ve become ‘one of them’. We have the screaming baby on the plane!”

Many parents dread taking their baby on a plane or other public transportation for extended periods. How on earth are you going to change your baby’s nappy in the awkward confines of an aeroplane toilet? What is the nicely dressed man sitting next to you going to do when he gets off the plane and realises he has a little baby vomit on his suit? Will your baby scream the whole way? Are your fellow passengers going to give you dirty looks and try to chase you off the plane with pitchforks and torches?

It’s not unusual for parents to consider avoiding such potential problems by medicating their baby to sleep. A recent survey by NBC’s Today Show and Parenting.com uncovered a startling finding. Of the 26,000 mothers asked about their deepest, darkest secrets, one in five admitted to medicating their child to get through a special event such as a plane flight. One in twelve mums does it just to get some peace and quiet on a regular night. Dr Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical expert, said she believes the one in five number is actually low.

Medication is a tempting way to keep your baby quiet for a few hours on a plane.  Truth be told, the idea of sedating Boy Wonder during this short trip to Sydney did briefly cross my mind. So is it ever ok to give your baby medication to get through a flight or even so that you as a parent can get some sleep? This very question caused an uproar on channel 7’s Sunrise earlier this year. Sunrise GP Dr Ginni Mansberg weighed in on the debate stating that sleep deprived parents “need our compassion and not our judgement”. She advocates the use of some over-the-counter medicine every now and then for parents requiring a decent night’s sleep.

While I both sympathise and empathise with parents who are sleep deprived, I believe both as a pharmacist and a new mum that any potential benefits are not worth the possible health risks. According to Australia’s drug regulatory body the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), there have been a number of overseas reports of serious adverse effects among infants and children given over-the-counter medicines containing sedating antihistamines. “These things are not ok for under two-year olds” says Dr Ginni, “because their metabolism is still developing and there have been some severe reactions even at the correct doses”. In fact, as of September 2008 medicines containing sedating antihistamines became ‘prescription only’ for children less than two years in Australia.

With Christmas and summer holidays upon us here in Australia, I get bombarded at the pharmacy with requests from parents for sedating antihistamines for their babies. I try to counsel parents about ways to make travel with a baby a little easier without medicating. Some handy hints include:

  • scheduling flights during baby’s sleep times;
  • choosing an airline that has bassinettes in the bulkhead which allow your baby to sleep well in something other than your arms;
  • trying to feed your baby during take-off and landing to help equalise their ears and for comfort;
  • bringing a goody bag of new books, toys and favourite snacks to keep baby occupied while they are awake;
  • trying to stay relaxed yourself because baby can sense when you are feeling tense and will most likely stress out too.

If you do decide to try sedating your baby for travel, be sure to follow these tips:

  • Discuss your plan with your child’s doctor or pharmacist. Some medications are unsafe if your baby has certain health conditions or is taking other medications.
  • Ensure you understand the correct dosage by discussing with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Do a test run of the medication before you travel, and monitor your baby for side effects.

The bottom line is, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I guarantee you that someone else feels overwhelmed by the prospect of travelling with a screaming child (lots of people actually). Someone else will medicate their child, or question their decision to medicate or brave it with no sedation at all. Just remember that no matter what you decide to do, be safe, be smart and be confident in your decision. Ultimately all any of us want as parents is to do our best for our children. Sometimes that means spending four days in a foreign city with our in-laws, but that is a story for another time…

Happy holidays to all xoxo

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