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Ask Dr. Sears: Medicine Giving Techniques

Q. I have to give my 7-month-old medicine for reflux. She hates it - she squirms, gags, and cries. I feel I'm harming the trust she has in me. How can I make this less stressful for us both?

First, don't worry that you're hurting the bond of trust between you and your daughter. Even though she hates taking medicine, she loves the person giving it to her. And while giving medicine to a young baby can be work for both sides, it's important that you approach the task with a positive, matter-of-fact attitude. Why? Because even a 7-month-old can read anxiety in their parent's face. If your baby sees that you're not worried, she's more likely to relax and accept the not-so-tasty medicine.

Besides being sure you're giving the medicine exactly as your pediatrician has instructed, you can ask the doctor about any options for the medicine's preparation -- some come in liquid, some come in crushable tablets, some in capsules that can be opened and sprinkled in cereal. A trick Martha and I have used successfully is one we call "magic paste": Crush a tablet between two spoons, add a drop or two of water to make a thick paste, and spread the mixture on the inside of your child's cheeks.

The best Sears family secret for giving medicine to our kids -- who tended to be spitters -- was the "cheek pocket" technique, which I discovered when I was alone one day at medicine time with our seventh baby, Stephen. Start by cradling your baby's head in the crook of your arm and, with the same hand, use your middle or index finger to gently pull out the corner of your infant's mouth, thereby making a pocket in her cheek. In your other hand you can hold a dropper, from which you can drip the medicine into the cheek pocket a little at a time. The pulling on Baby's cheek keeps her from spitting out the medicine, and placing it inside the cheek also helps bypass the taste buds, thus giving the medicine a fighting chance to go down.

You can also try burying a crushed pill or a small amount of liquid in a couple of tablespoons of your infant's favorite cereal or in mashed bananas. Chase the medicine with nursing or a bottle-feeding. If you do add medicine to food, be sure your child consumes all of it so she gets the dose she needs. A calibrated syringe-like plastic tube with a spoon at the end, available at pharmacies, can be a big help too. When using this device, again aim for the inside of Baby's cheek. Or try squirting a few drops of medicine into her mouth when she's nursing or taking a bottle. Even at 7 months of age some infants take medicine best from a plastic cup, which you can also use to catch and recycle the dribbles from her mouth. Finally, capitalize on positive associations. Like anyone, babies are likelier to accept an unpleasant task if they know it is always followed by something pleasant. So follow medicine-giving with a feeding, playing your child's favorite activity, or singing a favorite song. A natural choice? Mary Poppins' "A Spoonful of Sugar."