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Drugging Kids For a Little Peace and Quiet

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Most experts agree -- using cold and allergy medicine to sedate kids is wrong. But that doesn't stop parents.

Mom giving medicine to son

If flying is a hassle, flying with kids is a nightmare. As seats get smaller and in-flight amenities fewer, more and more parents are dosing their kids with sleeping aids to make it though long flights hassle-free. According to a poll on the website lilsugar, a whooping 58% of parents think it's okay to use Benadryl, an allergy medicine or other medicinal sleep aids to help kids sleep on a plane.

"Benadryl is not intended as a sedative," warns pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson. "It is an antihistamine meant to help treat allergic symptoms. It is not a convenience for parents to help with an "extended nap" on airplanes. Additionally," says Dr. Cara, "The FDA came out with a warning earlier this year to change the labeling on many cough and cold medications warning parents "should not give to children under age 4."

And the risks can be deadly.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, cough and cold preparations like Benadryl account for about 27 deaths per year in children under six.

"I'm against Benadryl used for anything other than allergy treatment, and so are most pediatricians and sleep experts," says Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Regardless, many parents insist drugging kids is "the only way to fly." Some even go further and use the method when they simply need a break.

"Parents do it who are tired and stressed out," explains, Dr. Gwenn. "I hear parents [in my practice] tell me 'she doesn't sleep so I give them Benadryl." Apparently, it's a very dangerous habit. "There is a safety window that can be easily exceeded messing with your kid's clock -- which is what makes us sleep."

At what point does the use of sedatives become a form of child abuse?

"You could argue it's always abuse," states Dr. Gwenn. "There's a very fine line. But a 'normal' parent will call 911 if there was a problem relating to the dosage, a parent who has done something suspicious won't."

There is mounting evidence the high-profile saga of accused murder Casey Anthony is just one of those cases. Momlogic reported last month Casey Anthony's defense team said if Anthony's daughter, Caylee was indeed dead, "it was almost certainly a tragic accident," and she was possibly poisoned by chloroform or she could have died while she was sedated. Basically, they claim it could have been an accident.

While anyone would be loath to compare their own practice of sedating a child on an airplane  to Casey's alleged use of chloroform, there are some similarities. As one momlogic reader put it, "I don't think I know any moms who haven't at least considered giving their kid(s) Benadryl for a plane ride, *If* the chloroform story is indeed what happened, it's only a difference of degree. Either action is still drugging your child to make your life easier."

In the last three years, ten daycare centers tried to make their lives easier by workers allegedly sedating children with cold medicines and cough syrups. Four babies died in those cases. Sabine Bieber, former owner of Tiny Tots Day Care in Montana, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for giving one-year-old Dane Heggem a fatal dose of generic allergy medicine  (without the parents permission) to manage their nap times.

"Sadly, it could happen to anyone," cautions Dr. Gwenn. "If you're going to use something off-label -- for a purpose other than its intended use -- you could easily be accused of wrongdoing. Benadryl is used for allergies. A lot of parents don't know how to give these drugs properly -- they misjudge their child's weight, for example."

A parent needs to be prepared to answer that if something goes wrong. "Essentially," concluded Dr. Gwenn, "You're taking your child's life in your hands."

Is It OK to drug kids for airplane rides?


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30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mom of five angels November 19, 2008, 1:32 AM

Unbelieveable. I flew from Honolulu to Denver and back myself with five children ranging in age from 1-14, one of which is autistic and didn’t have to sedate them. In fact when I got on the plane you could see the evil glnces in our direction like people expected my kids to misbehave. You know what? They were so good that I received compliments from my fellow passengers. It was the kid on the other side of us that screamed the whole flight.
There is no excuse for sedating your children!!! Shame on you!!!

kim November 19, 2008, 2:52 AM

I’ve never heard of drugging your kids with cough medicines before the Casey Anthony case. This is sick and disgusting, how can parents do this?I’m a mother of 3 with another on way and have been completely exhausted throughout my pregnancy but never would I even consider doing something like that.Wouldn’t there be long term side effects?

Lauria November 19, 2008, 7:15 AM

The thought of sedating your child is nothing new. In the sixties my mom and her old friends told me if I was going to fly with my baby to dilute a little wine in a bottle and she would sleep all the way. Those were the days that the older wise ones knew all the answers, and misbehaving kids were not tolerated. So, being 19 years old, I tried it once, but once I saw my baby’s eyes getting that drowsy look I took it away and thought to myself “What are you doing!!” and have felt guilty ever since. After that I never listened to anyone.

The difference here is that I knew at that young age that my child did not ask to be born - I wanted a child. How could I have ever thought of her as an inconvenience when I dragged her into this world probably against her will - my child ws my gift and as hard as it can get sometimes, they are small for such a short time, just enjoy it and if you want time for yourself, you will have plenty of time after they are grown and moved on.

Danna November 19, 2008, 8:23 AM

I can remember times when my son was young and colicky that I didnt sleep for days. Never even thought about drugging him. What are these people thinking?

kris November 19, 2008, 8:52 AM

chloroform is way different than benadryl- however I would never give my child something to make her sleep-

Allison November 19, 2008, 9:02 AM

What sort of moms are the 58% who said its ok to drug kids for peace and quiet???? Here’s a thought-if you want peace and quiet-do something with your kids to keep them occupied!

jenniferd November 19, 2008, 10:28 AM

Where did they get the statistic? I don’t believe that 58% of parents give over the counter medicine to their kids for a nap. No way. I have three children and I know alot of people with kids, and I have never heard that one brought up. That’s crazy and I would like to know where they got their data. Also, Isn’t putting that out there on the web almost incouraging it in the lame people who do? I know the article sights reasons not to, but when you are sighting a statistic like that? Not good.

Heather November 19, 2008, 10:30 AM

In the face of all the warnings flying around and hearing of all the accidental overdoses and such I can’t see how a responsible parent could “drug” their child—even if it is a simple over the counter allergy medicine.
On the other side of the fence, I can say that I have had to give my children allergy medicine on occasion (when we go to visit my in-laws who have a dog) and I will admit that I have appreciated the side effects—less fussing at bedtime because they’re already tired and ready to doze off.

Mom from NYC November 19, 2008, 11:18 AM

I recall having this conversation with my brother, a doctor, 23 years ago.

He thought nothing of giving a sedative to flying kids and suggested I give my son, now 24, a narcotic to make him sleep during a transatlantic flight.

I was horrified then and I am horrified now.

What is the matter with people? If you go to the trouble of advance planning, a trip is a great adventure for a child…even a long flight overseas.

Generally, when kids misbehave it is the parents’ failure. I’m not talking about babies crying because of pressure on their little ears. That cannot be avoided and is no one’s fault and fellow passengers should be compassionate, not obnoxious.

I am talking about this other “can’t be bothered,” mentality where the prospect of dealing with unscheduled time and children is simply overwhelming.

Though I would hardly lump it in the same “heinous” category as sedating your kids, I must say that I am bothered by all the television/video monitors in the backs of mini vans so kids can be “occupied,” or entertained at every waking moment.

Since when is scenery is a problem? Or a game of count the license plates? Or a conversation, for crying out loud!

My youngest is 13 now. He, like his older brother and sister, is an accomplished world traveler. I never, ever, ever felt moved to drug my kids on a plane or for any travel, just as I never felt moved to drug myself.

And when my kids were sick or unable to sleep, even at home, I just dealt with it.

This doesn’t make me a hero.

Just a mom.

I have to say that there is an epidemic of lazy child-rearing going on.

But Casey Anthony is in her own category of sick, selfishness…with probable murder tossed in. Any discussions of this subject require a new category for her and the horrible cas of her “missing” daughter, Caylee.

As someone who has been following this case, let me state that the whole Anthony clan is reprehensible, from the yappy mother Cindy who changes her story from minute to minute to that 22 year old skank who lied, stole and likely killed her baby, then toted the dead body around for weeks until it reeked so bad it had to be buried.

The Moral of the Story: Do not drug your precious children!!!!!!!!

Ardra November 19, 2008, 11:41 AM

Selfish doesn’t even begin to cover it. Child abuse? you bet. Do you want someone knocking you out when they are tired of listening to you?

Tara November 19, 2008, 12:11 PM

I would never give those drugs to my kid for any reason, including their intended purpose.

vj November 19, 2008, 12:18 PM

Years ago Benedryl was considered a very safe medication for colds and allergies. I can see why people would use a carefully measured dose on a stressful flight on rare occasions, ALSO I think it may help keep the eustachian tubes open so their ears wouldn’t hurt with air pressure. This is very different than keeping your kid sedated all the time for convenience.

mary November 19, 2008, 12:20 PM

Parents should not sedate their kids for airplane rides. It will usually backfire on them, as a tired child can turn into a very grumpy child! Falling asleep on an airplane is not an easy thing to do, and to expect that you can give a child a dose of benadryl and have them curl up in their seat is ridiculous. What ends up happening to a lot of these kid is, the benadryl ‘rev’s them down’ internally, and because the airplane is such an uncomfortable place to fall asleep, their natural response is to try to ‘rev up’ their systems by getting hyper, ornery, etc. So then you end up with an agitated child on an airplane.

The BEST way to fly with kids is to pack a bag with new ‘stuff’ new books, new toys, snacks, etc. With some planning ahead, flying with kids is relatively easy. It also helps if the parent views their role as “keeping my kids calm/happy”… if the parent knows that they can’t just tune out and read a book or go to sleep, and that they are there to help their child enjoy the flight, then that makes a difference, too.

mary November 19, 2008, 12:23 PM

vj, benadryl is an antihistamine, not a decongestant. It’s not going to open up the eustachian tubes for you.

vj November 19, 2008, 12:31 PM

I know it’s an antihistamine and they put it in cold medicine because there is often an allergy component that aggravates cold symtpoms. It has a drying effect. I’ve tried it, and it seems to work when I am congested.

Anonymous November 19, 2008, 12:37 PM

Sounds like just lazy parenting to me.

Kate November 19, 2008, 1:06 PM

I’m not cool with drugging your kids just for the sake of shutting them up. The being said, I took OTC pills for severe motion sickness on all plane, boat and car trips when I was a kid. And it would knock me out. Why haven’t parents considered this as a safe alternative?

kay November 19, 2008, 2:27 PM

I was a colicky baby and my mother confessed to sometimes “drugging” me with Chamomile tea. Apparently it would knock me right out. To think I was actually appalled by that!

mom November 19, 2008, 2:38 PM

Chamomile tea is excellant for calming down kids and for teething - and for stressed moms to drink too! there are so many homeopathics available to calm kids while flying or overtired which are completely safe. Drugging kids should never be the answer, i never use any of the cold medicines/decongestants/antihistamines for my children even when they are sick. There are so many natural products that do a better job safely and help your body do what it needs to do.

dixiechik November 19, 2008, 2:39 PM

Why have them if you don’t want to enjoy and cherish every moment with them. I would never think of sedating my children. As for Casey Anthony, she is out of her mind to think she can get away with murdering her child. It is no accident when you purposely drug your child so you can party. Give her some truth serum already, so Caylee can truely rest in peace.


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