(Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, it is merely a list of infant medicines which your doctor may advise you to use. Every baby is different. please consult a pediatrician with any health concerns)
My sister just had a baby and while she was still pregnant, she asked me what drugs besides Syrup of Ipecac she should have ready to give the baby. My first response was "THROW AWAY your syrup of ipecac." Unlike when we were kids, it is no longer recommended that ipecac be kept at home or even used under most conditions (also, a newborn is not going to be crawling around getting into trouble under the kitchen sink quite yet).
Other than that, babies under 6 months should generally NOT be given any drugs without consulting his or her pediatrician. Once you (the new parent) learns from the doctor how and when to give drugs like Tylenol, then you might end up making the decision on your own if the baby is older than 6 months. But, in nearly all cases you will want to talk to the doctor before (or soon after) giving drugs. The medicines listed here are handy to have in case it is in middle of the night and the on-call nurse or doctor advises you to give the drug.
The reason you should call the pediatrician a lot is not because they are superheros... its that there are a few really scary illnesses that can happen to newborns (especially under 1 month old), and no website or friend or Grandma will know how to check all the right things and ask all the right questions to do a "differential diagnosis." Any of these things alone are good reasons to call the doctor: fever, lethargy, inconsolable crying, blood, rash, coughing, swelling, rapid breathing, wheezing, shaking, sore neck, etc, etc.
Thus, the number one most important thing you need in your medicine cabinet: the pediatrician's phone number. When selecting a pediatrician, compare which offices have after-hours phone contact with doctors/nurses or Saturday morning office hours or the ease of making last minute appointments. It is a huge pain to go to the Emergency Room with your baby because the doctor doesn't make any way for you to get some quick advice.
So, finally, here is a list of medicine that you might want available right away (without having to make a midnight run to the drugstore) in case the doctor says you should use it:
- Infant Tylenol. Finally, this is now available dye-free, since everyone knows that little babies usually spit out their medicine. Try squirting it into the pouch of the cheek and blowing a quick breath of air onto their face (this stimulates a reflex to close their mouth and inhale). After 6 months, you can also have some ibuprofen on hand for fever as well.
- Pedialyte and Feverall. When the baby is throwing up or having diarrhea (which is actually hard to identify since baby poop is already a bit... um... unusual... compared to what you are probably used to), then fluids are critical. Of course, call your doctor, and nursing/breastmilk is usually best, but she or he may recommend Pedialyte for the same reasons that Gatorade is sometimes recommended: it is high in electrolytes and sugar. If a newborn baby is really sick enough to need this, then probably a hospital visit is best. Feverall suppositories are used when the baby cannot keep the Tylenol in the belly due to frequent throwing up - and, interestingly, it is easier to administer than oral medication.
- Saline nose drops (no decogestants). Babies really like to breathe through their nose and when they nurse or drink from a bottle (or suck a pacifier) they keep their mouth clamped and rely solely on their nose for air intake. So, they get very sad when they get a cold and this whole breathing system gets interrupted with a thick yellow substance in their sinuses and nostrils. The most effective way to clear the baby's nose is to put some saline drops in each nostril (tip the head back a little bit and pop in a pacifier for a second so they try to take a big breath through their nose). Then, wait 1-10 minutes and usually the baby gets rewarded with a big clump that makes its way out. Alternatively, you may need a bulb syringe or special nasal aspirator to suck out more of it (but be gentle). Finally, the FDA has recently made a strong recommendation that nasal sprays or oral medicine with decongestants should not be used in babies since it has been shown in clinical trials to have no difference in outcome compared to saline - and some "cold medications" have Tylenol mixed in with cough suppressants or antihistamines which confuses people and then they end up double dosing with plain Tylenol (which is really bad). While we're on the topic of antihistamines, you should avoid benadryl for babies.
- Dry Skin Lotion. Infant skin has been soaking in water for many months, so after birth, it is tender and prone to dryness (and soft and cuddly). Dry skin is a sign of unhealthy skin and in babies it can quickly lead to rashes, itchiness, eczema and possibly skin infections or psoriasis. So, keep an eye out for dry skin, don't wash the baby every day (let the natural oils protect the skin), and don't use too much soap. If you're finding a dry skin area, go ahead and put some lotion on the baby - you probably don't even need to ask your doctor in advance (but be sure to show them the dry skin soon). An important note: there is a recent health concern about a common (unlabeled) ingredient in lotions and body wash/shampoo: phthalate. So, try to stick to the organic brands.
- Skin ointments. A tube of each of these might be useful for the various diaper rashes, cuts or other itchy rashes. For diaper rashes use A&D ointment and/or some other diaper rash ointment with zinc oxide (like Desitin). Lotrimin/Monistat is for fungal based rashes on the baby or the breast. Hydrocortisone for itchy rashes (use very sparingly, not more than a couple days, and contact your doctor before using). Antibacterial (like Neosporin) for protecting cuts. Lanolin is excellent for the first couple weeks and should be used generously for sore nipples on Mom or chapped/blistered lips on the baby (or olive oil can be used on the baby's lips). Rubbing alcohol is useful in the first week to keep the umbilical cord clean and dry to prevent infection. For teething pain, we have used Oragel, which has some great numbing action - but I guess it is not recommended for teething pain.
- Gadgets: Ear or forehead thermometer - babies don't like armpits or rectal thermometers very much, and the new electronic ones are super easy and quick to use (especially while the baby sleeps). Babies spend the first month or so unable to control their arms so they end up scratching their face with their fingernails. So, buy some little nail clippers and cut carefully. Another cute invention is a medicine dispensing pacifier. And, we have also used the EarCheck quite often to check for fluid in the ear.