< May. 04, 2011 > -- Many parents of infants give their youngsters herbal teas or supplements - despite the fact that these products may not be safe for babies.
Researchers at the FDA found that nearly 10 percent of infants under 1 year of age were given botanical dietary supplements or teas.
The most commonly used products were gripe water, chamomile, teething tablets, and teas. The most common reasons for giving these products were fussiness, digestion problems, and colic.
But the problem, the researchers say, is that dietary supplements and teas aren't closely regulated by the FDA, as are prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Some supplements may contain contaminants like heavy metals, and some herbal products may interact with medications given to infants.
"Even things that look benign can be dangerous for babies," says Louisdon Pierre, M.D., at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City. "Anise is an herbal product that people make tea with. In adults, there may be no reaction, but in babies, anise can cause jitteriness and seizures. The young brain is really susceptible."
For the current study, the FDA reviewed data on nearly 2,700 mothers who were part of the Infant Feeding Practices Study, which ran from 2005 to 2007. Nearly 6 percent of the mothers said they had given their baby a botanical supplement or tea during their child's first year of life. Nearly 4 percent said they had given these products more than once during that first year.
Child health experts recommend that infants be given only breast milk or formula during the first four to six months of life.
The researchers also found that only about a quarter of the mothers talked with their child's health care provider about using supplements or teas. Where did the mothers turn for advice? About 28 percent got their information on supplements from the media, and 30 percent asked family or friends for advice.
"That's bothersome to me," says Mark Diamond, M.D., at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "Are they afraid to communicate with me about these products? There may be safety issues with some of these products and I want parents to communicate with me."
Dr. Diamond adds: "Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe. People assume that something's safe if mom or grandma used it, but it might not be."
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If you decide to use a particular herbal supplement, and you've checked with your health care provider, keep these do's and don'ts in mind:
- Buy a name brand. Name brands, which are manufactured by large companies, may be safer than other brands. Remember that having a "name brand" does not guarantee that an herb is effective.
- Don't mix herbs. Taking more than one herbal product at a time may increase the risk for side effects. Avoid taking an herb with a prescription medication - unless you have checked with your health care provider. Herb-prescription interactions can cause dire or fatal side effects.
- Check the expiration date. Herbal supplements don't last forever.
- Stop using an herb if you have a reaction to it, and contact your health care provider.
- Be patient. It may take herbal supplements a longer time than prescription drugs to have an effect.
- Also remember that time alone can improve you condition without any benefit from the herb. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the benefits of time from those of ineffective herbs such as echinacea.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.