Benadryl for traveling 18 month old - safety and, if it's safe, dosing?
December 21, 2017 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking about giving my toddler Benadryl to help her sleep on a plane ride and at my parents' house over Christmas. She is 18 months old and I want to make sure it's safe; the website says you're not supposed to do it but is that a liability thing or a "no really, don't do this" thing? If it is safe, what dose should I give an approximately 28 lb 18 month old?

Really, safety is the most important thing to me. If this will be, like, horribly destructive to her precious little liver I won't do it. That said, if it's something that will make life easier for all of us and is actually safe I don't want to make her (and us) miserable out of an overabundance of caution. So:

-How safe is it to give an 18 month old Benadryl to help her sleep (ideally two days in a row, maybe three)?
-If it is safe, how much should I give her?
-Whether it's safe or not, any other (not to be a jerk but non-obvious) tips for getting her to sleep on the plane and, especially making her nap at my parents' house with all the attendant strangers and excitement and unfamiliarity?

Please note that my question is NOT "Is it morally right to drug a toddler to get her to sleep?" or "Do you love your child so much that personally you would never give them Benadryl on a plane ride?". I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, but my question is really about whether this is a good idea in terms of her health and safety and not something more nebulous. Probably this disclaimer is overkill but people can be extremely judgey about parenting stuff and I'm super not feeling up for that right now, thanks.

Thank you so much for any guidance you can provide!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a link discussing why to avoid using Benadryl with a baby.

You should discuss this with a medical professional.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Has your kid ever had it before? My biggest worry would be an allergic reaction or a paradoxical response (some kids get wired and hyper on Benadryl, and you can't predict it ahead of time), neither of which are super rare things, and would make the situation many times worse than not doing it.
posted by brainmouse at 8:00 AM on December 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

Talk to your ped.
posted by k8t at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 for paradoxical response warning. I had to take a fair amount of Benadryl as a kid for allergy issues and it made me extremely Not Fun To Be Around.
posted by halation at 8:04 AM on December 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

As an alternative, we gave our motion sickness prone kids children's Dramamine, and it did make them drowsy when they were younger. It says for ages 2 and up, I'd check with your pediatrician.
posted by Wavelet at 8:04 AM on December 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I really feel for you because I recently took my little guy (at 11 months) for his first 4 (!) plane rides in the month of November. I was so worried about him sleeping (or not) on the plane, but I decided against using Benadryl, for the reasons listed in the article sciencegeek linked to. (Especially that it might have the opposite of the desired effect!)

Here's what worked for us, for getting him to sleep on the plane and at the grandparents' house: following routines as closely as possible, including timing and recreating his accustomed sleep environment. He hardly slept at all on the plane because he's never been a nap-on-the-go kid, but the two brief naps he did take were while nursing, so I would definitely recommend that if you're still nursing! I also told him his bedtime story and sang his bedtime songs, even on the plane. At the grandparents' house we did all that, plus put black garbage bags over the windows to make it dark dark dark (I travel with these and masking tape now, my husband thinks its ridiculous but I swear by it.)

For the plane, I'd also recommend snacks that can be parceled out one a time, like cheerios or those little Happy Baby puffs. This, as well as letting him play with whatever, got us through. (Seriously, this kid's favorite toys are trash: empty water bottles, the extra plastic cup I asked for at beverage service, etc.)

Good luck!
posted by CiaoMela at 8:05 AM on December 21, 2017

Can you contact your pediatrician's office? No one here who's at all qualified is going to tell you it's safe to give meds to a child whose medical history they don't know and whom they haven't examined, or give you dosing instructions for it. (I say this not at all judgmentally -- I have no ethical issues with giving a toddler sleeping meds -- but just as a practical matter.)
posted by lazuli at 8:05 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the paradoxical response thing is a real risk, but we gave our daughter a dose of a drowsy-making medicine (I forget if it was Benadryl or something similar) right before a flight when she was age 2 or so, and it was a very very good choice. It was something we had already given her, so we knew what the effects were going to be, and we knew that she freaked out when on buses and subway trains, so we figured it was worth whatever slight medical risk there might be from something we already gave her basically as needed.

For napping on vacation? We generally just gave up and let sleep fall where it may. Even though she was rough when overtired, it was easier dealing with that than it was dealing with putting her down for regular naps. She was always pretty bad about naps though, so your cost-benefit analysis might vary.

Good luck!
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nope, not a good idea. Benedryl is not proven to be safe in young kids.

The real answer is watching cartoons on ipad. Youtube kids videos will keep your child quiet. For a long time. And it's legal.
posted by Kalmya at 8:06 AM on December 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

children's Dramamine

Ah yes, that's what it was.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:07 AM on December 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Here is a pediatrician site with dosage guidelines. The paradoxical reaction is a concern though - maybe do a trial before you fly.

Sleeping at a strange place - we found the main thing was to make things seem familiar - ie routines, cuddly toy/blanket and ideally to have a quiet space but where they know you are nearby - you might have to give quite a bit of reassurance that you will come if they need you.
posted by crocomancer at 8:08 AM on December 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

We were instructed by our pediatrician to give our child benadryl at around those ages for reasons. Consult with a pediatrician. Paradoxical reaction happened to us, so it was not useful as a sleep aid, but that wasn't the target anyway. But, if you follow dosage guidelines, your kid will be fine.

Melatonin, if suggested by your pediatrician might be an option, and again, was given to our kid around that age as well. Especially if a time zone change is in the mix, this can be pretty valuable.

Doctors are way better at this than internet strangers.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:16 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not what your question is about but... To make the flight easier I literally stick em in front of a screen. I try not to do that too much on a regular basis, but for flights, I have no shame about it. I let them settle in for about an hour with toys and other activities, but as soon as they get squirelly I put something on. I highly recommend this cartoon as it was my kid's favorite for a while.

As far as at the parent's house - same as everyone else said, routine, favorite toys, etc..
posted by pyro979 at 8:21 AM on December 21, 2017

Yep, if you're going to do this, do a trial run first. Better to find out then if they're going to have the paradoxical response!
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:39 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

The way I did this particular risk benefit analysis was that I did not give benadryl recreationally (because risks), but the one time there was a clear and compelling reason, I gave it. In that specific instance, the child had become very ill on vacation in a rural area, appeared to have significant ear pain, and I was flying home to get him to our pediatrician (we had spoken by phone and they approved this plan, and suggested the benadryl). He was screaming inconsolably for a long time leading up to the flight, and I was worried about the pressure change making his ear pain worse, so I opted to knock him out. It was honestly a touch scary - it made him so still and quiet I had to keep checking that he was breathing. Then on the connecting flight, he woke up, started screaming like a banshee again, and I was afraid to give him more because it was too soon since the first dose.

Maybe, if your ped OKs it, carry a bottle of benadryl with you as psychological insurance, with the intent of busting it out if things really go to hell. Odds are you probably won't need it. Traveling with a toddler is a PITA, and 18-24 months is the peak PITA-ness, because they're big and squirmy and can't be reasoned with. But it's a finite length of time, and it is manageable. As others have said, we do unlimited screen time on airplanes and that's worked well. Stickers as an emergency backup (let the kid stick 'em on your arms and legs, it's hilarious).

Naps in strange places have always been a challenge. We've done some combination of: keeping routine as set and familiar as possible, darkening the room as much as possible, napping with the child, sometimes abandoning naps and dealing with crazed child if it just ain't gonna happen. I won't lie, we had some struggles while visiting family in the toddler years, but we just buckled down and got through them, and decided it was worth the trouble to see our family. This is one of those things that improves dramatically with time.
posted by telepanda at 8:43 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yet another mom whose kid is wired by benadryl (we used it for hives on the first try - I will now only give it to her if she really, really needs it). Definitely talk to your pediatrician first - this is actually really common. (We've flown across the country every year - just did our 4th trip. Know that it will eventually end, no matter how bad it is! Also, drinking alcohol helps the parents. )
posted by john_snow at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2017

I have tried to give my child something to help her sleep on the plane (don't remember if it was Benadryl, but it was definitely with the goal of knocking her out) and she couldn't fall asleep with the commotion of the plane so it made her EXTRA cranky and irritable. Never again.

I have given her Dramamine with the goal of combating her terrible motion sickness, and it has the side benefit of knocking her out as well.

For the portion of the trip at your folks' house, all I can say is that I wouldn't do it. Yes, baby's sleep will be disrupted. You will survive. I find that introducing the child while they're awake to the place where they're going to be sleeping helps a great deal, so the kid isn't going to bed in the dark in a scary strange place.
posted by Liesl at 8:57 AM on December 21, 2017

Benadryl is an anti-cholinergic, and anti-cholinergic meds have recently been implicated in dementia. Avoid if possible is the current line.
Even toddlers without ear problems may be uncomfortable with the change in air pressure. Sippy cup or bottle helps a lot, as sucking and swallowing helps equalize pressure.
Got an old mobile phone? Load it up with fun stuff. My grandson liked(even with the sound off) Baby Piano, Baby Xylophone, Magic Fluids Free, Fun With Particles, Kids Doodle - Color & Draw, Color Touch Free, and any game that reacts when you poke it, but doesn't end. On an Android, you can create a separate user profile, and get rid of apps you don't want baby to find. There are a bunch of physics/ particle apps that are responsive and nifty. You can download some Sesame street and other video from Youtube or wherever. A portable dvd player may be worthwhile.
Take a familiar blanket, even if you have to introduce it now; it will smell familiar, and a familiar stuffed toy. Maybe bring your night light.
Have a safe and happy visit.
Agree this is a question for a medical professional, in real life.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would not do it. Kids get hyper on that stuff and it'll backfire on you.
posted by katypickle at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2017

If you breastfeed, use the boob. When it works, it works so good.
Arrange for the flight to be as close to general nap time as possible.
Netflix now lets you download some videos for any non-WiFi situations like on a plane.
Kiddo may still get antsy from sitting in a cramped noisy location for a long period of time. Who can blame them? Even the worst situation will end after a finite amount of time, thank goodness.

Naps are gonna be a crapshoot. Grandparents, in my experience, don't think about nap time requirements in their day-to-day plans. Again, boobs help, but sometimes the distraction of New Place, New People, New Toys cannot be beaten by the boob. Take it easy and don't make big plans that require a timeline, and everyone survives the trip better.
posted by jillithd at 10:51 AM on December 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have run my daughter around at the airport (provided there's room and we're not annoying other folks) and let her go crazy in the play area before boarding. Then made sure she had all the usual comfort items (lovey, blanket, etc), plus tons of snacks and other distractions (kid's apps and/or shows on a tablet, crayons, stickers, a few books) once we were on board. Generally she would sleep at some point during the coast to coast flight(s).

Sleep and nap routine will probably get a little disrupted when you're away from home. I just learned to let go of expectations that things are going to be just like at home and dealt with shorter (or no) naps and later bedtimes. It was fine.
posted by medeine at 12:54 PM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don’t have kids, but have travelled with animals and faced the same dilemma (with less judginess obviously) and agree that if your doctor blesses it the biggest concern is a paradoxical response. That is so And since screens don’t work on cats and alcohol (for human adults) only goes so far, my best alternative advice is to stay as calm and mellow yourself no matter what is going on around you. Especially this time of year. Practicing your Zen voice harder than you’ve ever practiced it before? Does help. Both the kid, animal and co-travelers. And if your best efforts fail, then god speed - know that there is at least one other childless traveler out there who is so grateful you are raising the next generation because she would Not be using her Zen voice at all, and she totally respects your attempts.
posted by dness2 at 2:27 PM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a data point against, I sometimes get hyper from Benadryl, and sometimes get sleepy. So even if you try it out on your kid first and it knocks them out, there's no guarantee that will happen next time.
posted by potrzebie at 10:31 PM on December 22, 2017

Just want you to know I feel your pain and am not judging you at all. Been there. Did find that travel itself tired out my little guy, and plane noise was kind of like white noise/overload to conk him out. Definitely have stuff to suck on/chew for ear pain.
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on December 23, 2017

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