What’s the Deal Homeopathic Medicine for Babies?


After you determine which products are meant for infants you’ll notice that some are flagged on the package as being “homeopathic.” These homeopathic meds, such as Zarabee’s baby cough syrup and Baby Orajel Teething Gel, are all kind of mixed up together with other medications on the shelves. I decided to do some research about what exactly homeopathic medications are and how they differ from conventional meds.

Here goes.


Homeopathy is a philosophy and practice of natural medicine that is centered around the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. Homeopathy is grounded in the idea that “like heals like,” meaning that if a natural material causes a symptom in a person, then giving someone who is ill with those symptoms a very tiny amount of that material will cure them because it will trigger the immune or pain relief system in the body. Since the late 1700s people have been cataloging the symptoms natural material cause in a healthy person so homeopathic practitioners can know how to treat illnesses with similar symptoms in illin’ people.

Still with me?

To make a homeopathic medicine, practitioners take a very tiny amount of a plant, animal, or mineral material (this is the active ingredient that causes the “like” response) and then dilute it with a whole lotta water. The combo of natural material and water is then mixed together using a kind of shaking/whacking method and are then administered as tablets, liquids or sprays.

Side note here that there’s this one scientist, Benveniste, who claimed in the 1980s that the reason these heavily diluted homeopathic solutions worked is because water molecules somehow held a “memory” of the antibodies that they had previously been in contact with during the dilution process. This has been pretty much totally disproven, but nice try, French guy.

So, do they actually work? A few years ago, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia reviewed hundreds of studies on this topic and concluded that many of the studies that claim homeopathic medications work were actually very poorly designed and/or didn’t have enough participants to be considered significant. It seems the quality of the studies is so poor that no solid conclusions can be drawn and in some studies, the homeopathic meds were found to be no more effective than a placebo.

Also, I have to give you the heads-up that, while the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) does oversee the manufacturing practices of homeopathic drugs, they do not evaluate them for safety or efficacy. In fact, this time last year the Federal Trade Commission (which monitors advertising claims) got cranky at the FDA, saying that homeopathic medications were violating advertising guidelines because the FDA does not require scientific or clinical data to back homeopathic products’ claims on packaging—meaning there’s no proof that those products do what they say they are intended to do. Woof.

There’s also an argument that there’s no harm, no foul in trying homeopathic medications since they are all “natural”, so why not just give them a try? The problem with that is those active ingredients may do something, just maybe not what the box intends, but without rigorous testing, we often discover the unintended side effects after the fact.

Take, for example, Hyland’s Teething Tablets, and their recent recall. After reports of severe illnesses, and even deaths in some cases, were reported, it was discovered that inconsistent amounts of belladonna were found in individual tablets. While Hyland’s believes itty bitty bits of belladonna may help soothe aching gums, the FDA’s stance is firmly opposite, stating: “There is no known safe dose or toxic dose of belladonna in children because of the many factors that affect it.” While the vast majority of users didn’t have reported issues, knowing some children reacted so poorly is something to consider before using a product on your own kid.

To sum this up, there seems to be a big gap in the research about whether they actually work, and the FDA is not monitoring the safety of these meds, so none of that is very reassuring. That said, plenty of stores carry them and I know people who swear by them! I just want you to know what you’re spending your hard-earned cabbage on. ::insert ‘The More You Know rainbow’ here::

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  • I got a totally different impression from this than another Intelligent, Educated, and Knowledgeable Parent. I loved this piece! It wasn’t political at all. There’s a reason Claire is published on a top pregnancy blog. She’s talented and funny and does her research. Haters, take your hate elsewhere if it’s unproductive and preachy. Shudder.

  • Homeopathic meds work, and it’s very ignorant and reckless for you to be telling thousands of parents that they don’t. Do you not believe that herbal medicines work either, "because they have not been tested by the FDA"? The FDA is the last group we should be relying on when it comes to our health and wellness! They automatically let tons of drugs enter the market, calling them GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe), when they have rediculously long laundry lists of horrible side effects, sometimes including the very thing you’re taking the drug for! These GRAS have not been tested for a decent length of time, so many of them only get pulled off the market after large numbers of people have already been hurt by them. Many GRAS drugs are later found to cause cancer, or destroy the liver, AFTER hounreds of thousands of people have been taking them for little things like toenail fungus, or high blood pressure. Most Dr’s no longer try to treat the root of any problem, just the symtoms w/ harsh drugs.

    If parents would rather use an all natural method of pain relief for their children, who are you to tell them lies that you know nothing about! You have a masters in child developement, not in nutrition or medicine, or anything holistic and natural. How can you in one breath mention that hylands teething tablets were re-called for being too strong (and facts show it was actually from parents using more than the maximum daily dosage recommendations), and in the next breath say they are the same thing as water or a placebo! The contradiction is absolutely ignorant and uneducated! Shame on you…I don’t know why she allowed your article on this site!

    • But they don’t…water molecules do not have a ‘memory’ of whatever was in them before; especially if said substance was shaken or ‘whacked’ a bunch of times (which is literally what they do…). It is then diluted so many times that nothing of what was originally in it remains. Homeopathic remedies have been disproven to be effective by scientists. Regardless of what you think of the FDA, you can’t argue that they work because it has been shown countless times that they do not – regardless of the idiocracy of the scientific theory/method behind it. You are essentially taking water which, is, of course, safe and natural, but not effective at curing any ailments. Placebo effect is real – mind over matter as they say – and homeopathic remedies are exactly that. If you believe it is working then you will feel marginally better. But that is the extent of the benefits you will get, unfortunately…

  • "Natural" does not necessarily mean safe. Arsenic is natural. So is aspirin, cocaine, penicillin, and heroin. "Natural" tells you exactly nothing about how safe or effective something is.

    The danger in using homeopathic "remedies" is twofold: one, that the preparation may contain something harmful, such as belladonna, and two, that a true medical condition will not receive actual, effective therapy.

    I would not give a homeopathic preparation to anyone I like, or for that matter, anyone I dislike, and I consider it to be highly irresponsible that reputable drug stores sell such quackery.

  • Regardless of whether homeopathics work or not, I suggest you look into the current work of Gerald Pollock of the University of Washington. There is plenty of research that shows water can hold charges or "memory" in certain states of matter, particularly in its liquid crystalline state.

  • I got the OraGel Naturals for my son because the pediatrician said not to give infants benzocaine, the active ingredient in north regular OraGel and the baby stuff. I didn’t realize that it was considered a homeopathic. I thought it was just supposed to be something naturally occuring that numbed pain, like willow bark. Or whiskey

  • This is really useful info. I really wish all drug-type items were approved/tested by the FDA. I don’t understand how "natural" has made it a loop hole. Kids can still have reactions. I tried Hyland’s Teething Tablets because friends gave them rave reviews. They have done NOTHING for my daughter, who isn’t even that bad of a teether. And they’re expensive! I’m sticking with baby Advil for now.

  • "To sum this up, there seems to be a big gap in the research about whether they actually work" -there actually is not a "gap" in the research as you say, you even read the large study out of Australia so you should know that there is actually research indicating that homeopathic products are not effective, have no actual mechanism of action and the makers of these products prey on parent’s at their wits end due to teething/crying/colic etc who are willing to try anything/waste their money on anything.

  • Thank you! I am so sick and tired of seeing this quackery on shelves of drug stores beside actual medicine! These products shouldn’t be sold at all, let alone to sleep-deprived new parents who just want to soothe their cranky baby and get some rest. It’s disgusting to me that they’re preying on people like this and that they’re allowed to!

  • Thank you for sharing this! We’ve used the Hylands teething tabs, cold syrups, etc over the span of two preschoolers with (thankfully) no issues. I guess this is one of those things that make us feel like "better parents" because we’re choosing something natural and non-pharmaceutical. We also use baby Motrin because frankly it just works way better. It’s important to get past the "healthy halo" and realize all medicinal products come with an inherent risk and FDA-approved treatments are not inherently evil.

  • Homeopaths also believe that the more dilute the solution, the more effective the treatment… so wouldn’t plain water be the best treatment of all?

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