Complementary (natural) medicines in hospital

  • Complementary medicines include high-dose vitamins, minerals, herbal therapies, tonics, aromatherapy and homeopathic medicines. They are also sometimes known as natural remedies, traditional medicines or alternative medicines.

    Some medicines can interact badly with other medicines, and cause unexpected problems. Even natural remedies have the potential to intereact with other medicines.

    If your child is admitted to hospital, it is important to tell the doctors and nurses about all of the medicines your child is already taking, including medicines that are:

    • prescribed by the hospital
    • prescribed by another doctor (e.g. your GP)
    • bought at the chemist or the supermarket
    • bought from a health food shop
    • purchased overseas (e.g. medicines, supplements, creams or extracts)
    • complementary medicines.

    Continuing complementary medicine in hospital

    If you would like your child to continue taking their complementary medicines during their hospital stay, talk to the doctors, nurses or the ward pharmacist. They can find out more information about the medicine, discuss it with you and tell you if they think it is safe for your child to take while in hospital.

    Do not give your child any medicines without telling the hospital staff. 

    You will need to sign a statement to say the hospital’s policy has been discussed with you before you give your child any medicines while in hospital.

    The hospital’s responsibilities

    When your child is admitted to hospital, staff should:

    • ask you about all of your child's medicines
    • advise you about the safety of all medicines they will be giving your child
    • advise you if it is safe to continue giving your child complementary medicine
    • discuss with you the hospital’s policy on parents or carers continuing to give complementary medicines while their child is in hospital.

    Your responsibilities

    In addition to telling hospital staff about all of your child's medicines, you will need to:

    • advise staff if you want your child to take complementary medicines while in hospital
    • supply any complementary medicine while your child is in hospital
    • give all medicines to the nurses to safely store them so other children on the ward cannot get hold of them
    • record on the chart when you have given your child any medicines, including complementary medicines
    • immediately notify staff if you are concerned your child may be having an adverse reaction to a complementary or prescribed medicine.

    Key points to remember

    • Different medicines, including complementary medicines, can sometimes react badly with each other and cause unexpected problems.  
    • When your child is admitted to hospital, tell staff about all medicines your child has been taking, including complementary medicines.
    • Tell staff if you want to keep giving complementary medicines to your child in hospital. They will advise you if it is safe for your child to keep taking the medicine.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    What kind of reactions can occur?

    Just because a medicine is ‘natural’, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a strong effect in the body. Complementary medicines have the potential to react with other medications that a person is taking. The reactions can vary widely – in some cases one medicine ends up working too strongly, while in other cases the effect of a medicine that your child needs is not strong enough.

    What are some signs that may suggest a medicine interaction?

    There are many signs that may indicate a medicine reaction or interaction. Common signs include nausea and vomiting, pain, dizziness, rash, headache or sleepiness. More subtle signs may only be noticed by you or your child. These can include behaviour changes or a change in the medicine effect (reduced effect or increased effect). If you notice any possible reaction or interaction, notify your child’s nurse immediately.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Pharmacy. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.