Side effects: a major concern for parents and carers giving medicine to children

Giving a child medicine is concerning for many parents and carers, with a new survey showing 69% of parents worry most about their child experiencing side effects.

The survey of more than 1,000 adult Australians, conducted by YouGov Galaxy* last month, also found parents worry about correct dosage (62%), remembering how often to give the medicine (60%) and if they’re administering medicines correctly (56%).

This Be Medicinewise Week (20-26 August), NPS MedicineWise is urging all families to ensure they have the correct information about the safe use of medicines before giving medicine to a baby or child.

NPS Medicinewise Medical Adviser Dr Jill Thistlethwaite said: “Giving a child medicine can be daunting for parents and carers, because it’s so important the medicine is administered correctly, and at the right dose, to be effective and to avoid accidental harm.

“While most medicines are well tolerated by children, there may be side effects such as diarrhoea with some antibiotics,” Dr Thistlethwaite said.

Whether the dose of an over-the-counter medicine should be determined by a child’s age or weight is one issue confusing many parents. Half of the parents surveyed with children aged 4 or younger have concerns about whether they need to weigh a child before administering a medicine.

Dr Thistlethwaite said: “If in doubt ask. Small mistakes can cause big problems in little bodies, so remember to ask your doctor or pharmacist about how to correctly measure and administer a child’s medicine and discuss any concerns you have about the medicine and possible side effects."

Last year, NPS MedicineWise pharmacists took more than 600 questions about medicines for children and teenagers (0-19 years) through its Medicines Line, with nearly 400 of those relating to children aged 0-10. Often the calls were about giving antibiotics to children and about administering medicines for coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats.

NPS MedicineWise offers the following advice for parents and carers to be medicinewise with children:

  • Always read the label and packaging and, if in doubt, ask: Children’s medicines come in different forms and strengths for different ages and body weights. If purchasing an over-the-counter medicine, check with the pharmacist if you haven’t used that medicine before, or if you have any concerns.
  • Dose according to age and weight: Over-the-counter children’s medicine labels often contain age and average weight dosage recommendations. Read these tables carefully. Do not give more than the recommended dose for the child’s age. If your child is small or large for their age, ask for dosing guidance from your doctor or pharmacist. If you can’t weigh them on a bathroom scale, try stepping on the scale holding the child. Subtract your weight from the total to get an accurate reading of your child’s weight.
  • Measure accurately: Accurate measurements for liquid medicines matter. A spoon does not provide an accurate measure. Use the dosing device provided in the package, such as a dropper, oral syringe or medicine cup. Get in the habit of asking for advice on the most accurate dosing device for your child.
  • Write it down: Keep a record of the medicines you give your child to avoid exceeding the maximum daily dose and reduce the risk of double dosing – the medicine name, active ingredient, time given and exact dose. The MedicineWise app is a handy tool to record medicines information and set reminders.

Find more information about children and medicines at, or call the Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST (excluding NSW public holidays). To report a problem with medicines or vaccines, call the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237. 

*YouGov Galaxy Poll: Following completion of interviewing, the data was weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest ABS population estimates.


Media contact

Lyndell Coutts
02 8217 8650, 0419 618 365 or [email protected]

Independent, not-for-profit and evidence-based, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines, medical tests and other health technologies. We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.