What to Expect With Your Baby's First Vaccinations and How to Soothe the Pain

Make your little one's first vaccinations as pain-free as possible—for both of you.

Nobody looks forward to their baby's first vaccinations. Even though the shots are crucial to their long-term health, seeing your infant upset or in pain is difficult for any parent. But did you know that parents can play a crucial role in relieving the side effects of vaccines in babies, making the process more comfortable for both of you?

An October 2018 study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research focused on parental awareness and adoption of pain-relief strategies during infant immunizations. Through hospital prenatal programs at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, the researchers worked with parents to create educational tools for reducing vaccination distress for babies. The tools included a pamphlet and a video.

After parents received the tools, the researchers found "increased use of pain interventions at future infant vaccinations and knowledge, skills, and confidence in parents' abilities to manage infant pain," says Anna Taddio, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto, who researches pain reduction during vaccinations.

Hopefully, evidence-based health information for soothing babies during shots will get in the hands of new parents sooner. But if you still have questions, follow this advice to take some of the stress out of your own baby's experience. Here are tips for navigating your baby's 2-month shots, 4-month shots, 6-month shots, and beyond.

The Importance of Baby Vaccinations

Vaccinating your child is one of the best things you can do for their health. Vaccinations teach the immune system to fend off life-threatening diseases. The tiny amounts of weakened or inactivated viruses and bacteria (known as antigens) in vaccines trigger the immune system to create antibodies that fight against them. These antibodies are prepared to attack if the body is exposed to those viruses or bacteria again in the future.

"There is no intervention, other than clean water and sanitation, that has saved more lives than childhood immunizations," says Patricia Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner and director of Infection Prevention and Control for the Children's Immunization Project at the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Baby Getting Vaccine In Arm
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At their 2-month appointment, you can expect your baby to receive anywhere from three to five needle sticks (depending on whether combination vaccines are used) and a liquid vaccine. Together, these shots will guard against seven separate diseases, including rotavirus, polio, pneumococcal (PCV13), Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP). If they were given a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine during their 1-month visit, however, they'll have one less injection.

RELATED: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism—Here's The Proof

And remember: "It's important to get vaccines on schedule to give your baby the best protection," says Rebecca Pellett Madan, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City.

How to Soothe Your Baby After Vaccinations

"The impact of repeated pain during injections can lead even healthy babies to develop a fear of doctors and needles," says Dr. Taddio. Proactive pain control can go a long way toward preventing medical phobias later on. Here are the best tactics for easing the pain of vaccines in babies.

Offer cuddles and a feeding

Studies have discovered an efficient strategy for reducing the pain of shots: Hold your baby on your lap (rather than having them lie on the examination table) and let them nurse, drink a bottle, or suck on a pacifier dipped in a sugar-water solution. "Physical comfort, sweet taste, and sucking reduce pain in young children," says Dr. Taddio.

"Often, babies are soothed so quickly by feeding that they stop crying before they even leave the exam room," adds Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., community pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Some pediatricians and pediatric nurses prefer positioning babies on their backs on the exam table for injections. If that's the case at your doctor's office, ask them if they'd be open to allowing your child to be in your lap in one of the holds recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Request a topical anesthetic

If your baby seems to be highly sensitive to pain during their shots, ask your pediatrician about an over-the-counter or prescription topical anesthetic for next time. Put the cream on the skin one hour before the injection following your doctor's instructions to desensitize the area.

Be a calm presence

"If you're anxious, infants pick up on that and they tend to get worried too," says Roy Benaroch, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Emory University, in Atlanta. "Try to be calm, matter-of-fact, and loving, but not overly apologetic."

Offer acetaminophen

If your little one is inconsolable after their vaccinations or is continuing to show signs of discomfort in the hours or days after, you may consider giving them a dose of infant acetaminophen (try infant Tylenol). Just don't give it to your baby beforehand in an effort to head off their agony.

"There's no evidence that 'preventive' painkillers work, and at least one study found that giving a baby acetaminophen before they receive a routine vaccine shot may weaken their immune reaction," Dr. Benaroch explains.

Always consult with your pediatrician before giving your baby medication and follow their instructions for dosage, which will be based on your baby's weight and symptoms.

Try a mini baby massage

Apply deep pressure to your baby's leg immediately following the injection to dull the pain from both the superficial poke to the skin and the vaccine entering the muscle, Dr. Swanson recommends.

Watch for Symptoms After Baby Vaccinations

After vaccinations, it's common for a baby to experience a minor reaction such as redness at the injection site, a mild fever, fussiness, or a slight loss of appetite. "These are actually encouraging signs that the immune response is working," Stinchfield says.

Serious side effects of vaccines in babies are rare. However, if they're crying inconsolably for more than three hours or they develop a high fever (over 104°F), seizures, swelling of the face, or limpness, get immediate medical help.

With some advanced preparation and knowledge, you'll know what to expect for your baby's 2-month shots, as well as vaccinations down the road.

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