Like many parents, you might have started keeping a stash of medication on hand for when your baby or toddler has little ailments. One popular medicine is Children’s Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine designed to reduce the symptoms of allergies.

But how much do you know about this medication, including when to use it and how much to give to your child, especially your toddler? It’s important to know the safest way to use Children’s Benadryl­ — and when not to use it.

If you pick up a package of Children’s Benadryl and take a closer look at the label, you’ll see this word: diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is a type of antihistamine, which is a medicine designed to reduce your body’s response to a substance called histamine.

Normally, when your body produces this chemical in response to an allergen, you might develop some swelling and itching, or even a runny nose and some congestion. An antihistamine dampens that response and brings you­ — or in this case, your child — some temporary relief.

Children’s Benadryl is available in a several different forms, including liquid, chewable tablets, and something called meltaway strips that dissolve in your child’s mouth.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against giving any cold or cough medicine containing an antihistamine to a child under the age of 2. According to the FDA, this type of medicine could cause serious side effects in toddlers and babies, including rapid heart rate and convulsions.

The manufacturer labels on packages of Children’s Benadryl products tell parents of children under age 2 not to use this product.

When your child is a little older, the situation may be different — but perhaps not as soon as you’d think. These products are generally recommended for children ages 6 and older. The label also directs parents of children between the ages of 2 and 5 not to use the product unless directed by a doctor.

The bottom line: If your child is younger than 6, it’s better to put in a call to your pediatrician before reaching for this medication. And when we talk about toddlers in this article, we’re talking about toddlers above the age of 2.

As with any medication that you plan to give to your child, don’t do anything until you read the label. The information will vary from product to product, but in general, product labels list:

  • the active ingredients and the inactive ingredients
  • the symptoms treated by the medication
  • the recommended dosage amounts

Ingestible products like Children’s Benadryl will typically include a statement advising parents of children under 6 not to use the product unless directed by a doctor.

If your child’s doctor does direct you to give a dose of Children’s Benadryl to your toddler, it’s important to give the correct dose as directed by the pediatrician or as instructed by the label. Here’s a look at a suggested dosage chart to help guide you:

Weight of ChildLiquid suspension*Chewable tablets*
Under 20 lbs.Follow doctor directionsdo not use
20 to 24 lbs.3.75 mLdo not use
25 to 37 lbs.5 mL1 tablet
38 to 49 lbs.7.5 mL1 tablet
*every 4–6 hours*every 4–6 hours

It’s also important to not give too many doses within a certain time period. — no more than six doses in a 24-hour window. However, your child’s doctor may only want you to administer one or two doses to your child, so be sure to ask.

A topical product like Children’s Benadryl Itch Cooling Gel could be useful in situations where it’s not appropriate to give an oral medication to your toddler. Examples include minor skin irritations like insect bites or rashes that itch.

When it comes to Benadryl topicals (like the gel), you can apply a small amount of this product, which contains camphor instead of diphenhydramine, to the affected area on your toddler up to four times per day.

Essentially, allergy symptoms tend to be the main reason that a parent turns to this particular type of medication. Think hay fever-type symptoms:

  • sneezing
  • sniffling
  • watery eyes
  • itchy throat

It might also be useful in other situations when an allergic reaction seems to be developing on your child’s skin. For example, the gel might be useful after your child gets a mosquito bite that swells up or has a brush with poison ivy.

Important note

Benadryl often makes children sleepy, but don’t give in to the temptation to give them a dose right before that long car trip! Experts caution that it shouldn’t be used as a sleep aid.

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Antihistamines can bring much-needed relief to mild allergic reactions, but they can also cause some side effects. The one that you hear the most about is sleepiness. Your child takes their medicine and then zonks out for an epic nap.

However, some kids experience the exact opposite reaction: The antihistamine stimulates their nervous system, making them hyper and even irritable.

Also, watch out for products containing antihistamines along with other ingredients, so you don’t accidentally double up on a dose.

It’s always a good idea to consult your child’s doctor before giving an antihistamine. Your child’s doctor may give you the green light to go ahead and try a dose of Children’s Benadryl if your child develops an allergic reaction to something. But it’s also possible that your child’s doctor will ask you to steer clear of this particular medication.

If your child does have seasonal allergies, your doctor might also talk to you about trying another type of allergy medication that they can take on an ongoing basis. Benadryl is really designed for short-term use.

Depending on your child’s age, weight, and allergies, possible options might include:

For example, some formulations of Zyrtec are appropriate for toddlers ages 2 and up.

Products containing antihistamines like Children’s Benadryl definitely have their place. But it’s important to use this type of product correctly. For parents of toddlers, it’s best to start with your child’s doctor and go from there.