Should you give your baby antibiotics?

I’ve just had another ‘what’s the best thing to do as a mother’ experience.

It all started because Baby E got his third and fourth tooth – more or less together in the same week – and became ill.

Babies often get sick when they’re teething because this runs down their immune systems. And parents often rush to A&R because they want to know why the fever is so high if it’s ‘just teething’. Of course babies can’t tell you where it’s hurting.

Our little E clearly had teeth pushing through the gums – we could see that -and after a week of keeping his high fevers down my husband decided to take him to the doctors. They diagnosed a throat infection. And recommended a course of antibiotics.

Now I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries but here in Spain – in the public healthcare system – they prescribe antibiotics for almost anything. I think this is rather irresponsible, even harmful. Babies are just building up their immune systems, so the last thing you want is ALL bacteria – including good, bad and gut – wiped out, just because the one size fits all approach is applied. 80% of throat infections and colds are caused by viruses so antibiotics won’t make a difference. In fact for a doctor to prescribe antibiotics he or she should really take a cell sample and analyze it for bacteria. My acupuncturist (who incidentally studied both Western AND Chinese medicine) said that he once disagreed with a paediatrician about treating his child with antibiotics. The paediatrician then threatened to denounce my acupuncturist friend to the authorities. Yes, they can do that here. I find it absolutely shocking because the parents seeking alternative ways to treat their kids are the ones making the extra effort to combat not just symptoms but support long-term health.

Maybe it’s the doctors giving careless prescriptions that should be denounced?

The examples of over prescription are many. In the winter – around the time of his second tooth breaking through – baby E had a bout of bronchiolitis; a very common illness for babies that generally takes a week or so to clear up. His older brother also had it. Thus it was quite probably a virus. The paediatrician, unfriendly woman that she was, gave baby E a speedy check and wrote a prescription for antihistamines and cough syrup. She didn’t once look me in the eye or ask whether the baby was weaned or breastfeeding (try feeding cough syrup to an infant who’s exclusively breastfed – how about that for a first taste of something that isn’t milk?). All she said was, “You don’t want him getting pneumonia.” Why always the worst case, rare scenario? Why perpetrate these fear-based myths? She also said – or maybe it was the pharmacist – “He’s very young”. That’s precisely the point and the reason why I don’t want to fill his tiny body or tax his tiny liver with strong drugs.

Unfortunately I just haven’t found a good paediatrician around here. So what do I do?

Listen to the diagnosis but don’t believe the prognosis or take the medication. Luckily we have alternatives.

The first thing I do with a diagnosis or hunch is CHECK THE INTERNET. Thanks to this treasure chest of knowledge you can get a second, third and fourth opinion. You can surf baby websites and mum blogs; delve into scientific papers and medical reviews; compare notes on parenting forums; share stories; get tips from real experts and healthcare advisors and try out home remedies. You can be empowered, rather than meekly feed your baby medication just because the nearest person in the white coat said so. It’s true liberation. The internet has changed the face of motherhood.

When I was growing up the Western medical establishment was infallible. But word has gotten out. We know all about Big Pharma and the conspiracies. We’ve heard confessions of a former pharma rep. We’re also aware that holistic forms of medicine are generally better for your health and can be just as effective. The average massage therapist actually has a deeper understanding of the human body than many Western trained doctors. And nutritionists know more about disease prevention. There are some great doctors out there who genuinely care about an individual patient’s health and the concept of ‘healing’ but unfortunately many as just biding time as if it’s any old job. A cynical view is that many doctors just proved good at passing tests and had the drive to earn substantial amounts of money in exchange for sacrificing large amounts of time. Some would even go so far to call them glorified drug dealers.

Of course patients and parents are to blame too. For blindly believing everything we’re told. For our obedience when it comes to authoritative figures. For propping up a flawed system because we’re too lazy to question it. For being constantly afraid something bad could happen if we don’t give a pill. For being dumb, dumbed-down consumers. Often simply time, love and TLC are needed when a child is sick.

And in case you’re wondering. Baby E wasn’t given antibiotics. Neither did I give him the cough syrup and antihistamines at age 4 months. I researched first. Cough and cold remedies are actually not recommended for the under twos. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – a mainstream, traditional body when it comes to pharmaceuticals – does NOT even recommend cold and cough medications for children under the age of six. Why?

a)      Because the safety of such drugs hasn’t been reviewed.

b)      No scientific research has been able to prove their effectiveness – in fact studies show honey to be more effective than cough syrup.

c)       Cough and cold medications are known to have harmful side effects. Antihistamines, for example, tend to dry up secretions making the cough even worse. Using antihistamines along with an expectorant cough syrup may be doubly harmful, encouraging the production of mucus and then thickening that which is produced.

Please, if anyone knows a good paediatrician anywhere in the vicinity of Aguilas – on the Murcian/Andalucian border – I’ll give you get a free, signed and kissed copy of my book.