Stock up your medicine cabinet

You can never be too prepared when you’re becoming a mom for the first time. So in addition to a crib, baby clothes, blankets, stroller and all the other essentials, I also set out to pack my medicine cabinet with everything I could ever need in case my baby became sick – with anything! I consulted several friends about the must-haves. But the second my baby was born, I realized I was completely unprepared. My son hated the “snot sucker” and I couldn’t bring myself to use the rectal thermometer. I had to start from square one.

“I often have parents ask me what the necessities are for their medicine cabinet,” says Dr. Dina Kulik, an emergency medicine physician at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and a paediatrician at Kindercare Pediatrics. “I find a well-stocked cabinet can save time and stress when your child is unwell, as the typical medications and remedies are at your fingertips.”

She reminds parents to ensure that these medicines are not at arms (or climbing) reach of their child, and in a cabinet, ideally equipped with a lock. 

“Some medicines can be very dangerous if ingested in too large a quantity. A few times a year, check to ensure the medicine has not expired and double check the dose recommendations with your doctor,” she says.

Here are some of the essentials she recommends for treating babies:

Pain Reliever

Stock ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Ibuprofen lasts six to eight hours versus acetaminophen (four to six hours) and is also antiinflammatory. Ibuprofen is also good for relieving teething pain.


I recommend using a rectal thermometer until age two, as this is the most accurate. Ensure you have extra batteries if it is electronic.

Saline Spray and an Aspirator

This is essential for young children and infants with nasal congestion. The best aspirators are ones you place in your mouth to provide suction. A filter keeps the mucous out of your mouth.

Electrolyte Solution 

Invaluable when your child has the stomach flu. These replace essential sugar and salt that is lost with vomiting and diarrhea.

Petroleum/ Petroleum-free Jelly 

This is great for dry skin/eczema, diaper rashes and for use on the thermometer when taking a rectal temperature.

Gripe Water or Ovol 

These can help settle an infant’s upset stomach. 

Emergency Numbers 

Keep your child’s physician’s contact number, as well as the number for poison control in the cabinet.

You Might Also Want to Get…

As your baby gets older, the medicine cabinet could use a few upgrades. Dr. Dina Kulik of Toronto’s SickKids Hospital recommends:

  • Child-size toothbrush and toothpaste: Children less than three years of age should use fluoride-free toothpaste. Once they can consistently spit, you can switch to fluoride-containing paste.
  • Bandages and antiseptic: Essential for cleaning and dressing minor wounds. Tweezers are useful for removing splinters and tics.
  • Benadryl and hydrocortisone cream: Allergic reactions are common and Benadryl can work wonders. Always ensure a physician sees your child promptly if signs of serious allergic reaction occur (difficulty breathing, vomiting, decreased level of consciousness, facial swelling). Hydrocortisone can be applied directly to hive or bites to calm the itch.
  • Honey: Can help sooth the throat and shorten the duration of viruses. Do not give to children younger than one year, as honey is associated with botulism.
  • Sunscreen: I recommend a waterproof suncreen that is at least SPF50 (for kids over six months). If your child has sensitive skin, choose one that is PABA-free and contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These are less irritating than sunscreen with avobenzone.

WARNING: Don’t give your kids Aspirin (ASA), due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome. “This is a devastating illness that can lead to neurologic abnormalities,” says Dr. Kulik.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2014.

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