I've been hiding medications in my daughter's food since she was a newborn. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at just six days old, and so began the daily regimen of finding ways to get her to take her countless medications, vitamins, and supplements. As a newborn, she drank a bottle of breast milk laced with liquid vitamins, Zantac, and salt — each of them necessary for her health. None of them easy to get an infant or toddler to take.
Fast forward to age four, and I'm adding antibiotics and supplemental weight gain powders to her food. But she's catching on. She's started asking for "plain milk" and has decided milkshakes, a treat for most kids, are evil. She only trusts the ones in a McDonald's cup. If you know CF, you know that my daughter takes 13-20 pills a day and needs a high fat, high-calorie diet. If you know pre-schoolers, you know you can't make them swallow pills and you certainly can't force them to eat. Hence, my dilemma.
Is it OK for a desperate parent to hide medications in a child's food or drink?
Thomas B. Haller, MDiv., LMSW, ACSW, DST, a child and adolescent therapist, and his business partner, Chick Moorman, an educator, say no. In an article for MomScape, Medicine and Kids: The Do's and Don'ts, they write:
"Do not sneak medicine into your child's food or drink. Hiding a pill in peanut butter may work with your dog. Nix that idea for your child. Stay open about why she needs the medicine and the creative ways you will help her learn to take it."
In order to keep the trust between parent and child intact, Haller and Moorman suggest working with your child to find creative ways to get her to take the medication. You can certainly add the medicine to food, but your child should be aware of that. Some parents agree.
"It's a fine line," says mom Reba, "I've only ever tried it with vitamins. It didn't work because you can smell/taste it in anything. It did temporarily cause trust issues… Another issue is that it can cause your child to think it's okay to not take their meds. If you are successful in hiding the med, they will not know they've been taking it and eventually they're going to have to take [medication] willingly."
Mom Erin says,
"We put a lot of [my son's] medicine in his milk (especially the vitamins), but I actually ask him: Do you want to take it by mouth or do you want it in your milk? And then he watches me put it in his milk and doesn't mind taking it. But, I'm all about combining whatever I can for him."
Erica, mom of 3, had to stop hiding supplements in her daughter's food.
"I tried to hide calorie increaser powder in foods. [My daughter] could tell every time, and then questioned when she thought things tasted different. I had to promise I wouldn't do it anymore."
Whether or not hiding medication in your child's food causes trust issues, it can actually cause issues with the efficacy of the medication. According to FLAVORx, food and drink can affect a drug's activity by interfering with absorption, resulting in lower or higher drug concentrations in the bloodstream. However, a child who flat out refuses to take her medicine may be at risk. Also pointed out at FLAVORx, non-compliance to medication causes 125,000 deaths each year and is the cause of about 25% of hospital admissions. So if a child is putting up a huge fight and just won't take the meds, many parents resort to hiding it.
"If it's a huge fight and stressful," says mom Jessica, "I would think it's okay to hide it. I'm very fortunate that my little girl loves all her medicine so far, including her vitamins, which I think smell horrible."
"We mix meds in baby pears but [my daughter] knows," says Kimberly, "If I try to add something new she can tell right away. If it works, you might have to do it, but keep trying to reinforce that taking meds is important."
In addition, Joe, father of 5, says,
"We try to have them take it as is and they know it's medicine. But if they refuse and they have to take it, we will disguise it in food or drink."
For now, I'm taking a break from hiding anything in my daughter's food or drink and trying different tactics, including rewards, instead.
But we want to know, what do you think? When it comes to medications and necessary supplements, is it OK to hide them?