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

By Rachel Rabkin Peachman
Updated: October 24, 2018
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I can't say that I looked forward to my daughter's first vaccinations, even though I knew they were crucial to her health. I'd barely figured out how to pack my diaper bag and unfold the stroller, so the task of getting Lena through her shots was daunting.

Fortunately, we've come a long way since then. In a recent study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, researchers looked at what methods would increase parental awareness and adoption of pain-relief strategies through hospital prenatal programs at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. They involved parents in creating communications tools, including a pamphlet and video, to educate them on how to reduce babies' vaccination distress.

"We found increased use of pain interventions at future infant vaccinations, knowledge, skills and confidence in parents' abilities to manage infant pain," said Dr. Anna Taddio, professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, of the study.

RELATED8 Reasons Parents Don't Vaccinate (And Why They Should)

The hope is for evidence-based health information for soothing baby 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 and enlist these ways to soothe baby after her shots that really work.

Baby Vaccination Basics

First, remember that vaccinating your child is one of the best things you can do for him. 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.

"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.

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What to Expect

At his 2-month appointment, you can expect your infant to receive anywhere from three to five needle sticks (depending on whether combination vaccines are used) and a liquid vaccine that together will guard against seven separate diseases. (If he was given a dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine during his 1-month visit, however, he'll have one less injection.)

"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.

RELATED: Your 18-Month Vaccination Schedule

How to Soothe Baby After Shots

Studies have found that one of the best strategies for reducing the pain of shots is to hold your baby on your lap (rather than having her lie on the examination table) and let her 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 Anna Taddio, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto, who researches pain reduction during vaccinations. While other strategies include distracting your baby with a favorite toy or a song to help alleviate pain, they're not as effective as the combo of cuddling and feeding or sucking.

Here are more tactics for easing baby's pain:

Request a Topical Anesthetic

If your baby seems to be highly sensitive to pain during her shots, ask your pediatrician about a prescription topical anesthetic for next time. The cream can be put on the skin about an hour before an injection to desensitize the area. "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.

Be a Mellow Mommy 

"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."

Nurse or Offer a Bottle 

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

Offer Acetaminophen

If your little one is inconsolable and seems to be in pain after her vaccinations, go ahead and give her a dose of acetaminophen (try infant Tylenol). However, don't give it to your baby beforehand in an effort to head off her agony. "There's no evidence that 'preventive' painkillers work, and at least one study found that giving a baby acetaminophen before she receives a routine vaccine shot may weaken her immune reaction," Dr. Benaroch explains.

Try a Mini 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.

Sweeten the Experience 

Give your baby a couple of drops of table sugar and water immediately afterwards. "It's been shown to decrease the pain of injections in infants," Dr. Benaroch says. "We think that sugar works by releasing endorphins, which are natural painkillers."

Keep a Close Eye

While it's rare for a baby to have a serious adverse side effect, if he's crying inconsolably for more than three hours or develops a high fever, seizures, swelling of the face, or limpness, get immediate medical help. It's common, though, 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.

Parents Magazine

Comments (4)

February 14, 2019
Thankfully, the majority of American choose to vaccinate. In 2017, the WHO reports 110,000 people died from the measles worldwide. And 25% of people who get the measles have to be hospitalized. We haven’t seen much of this in the US due to vaccines. Let’s not pretend these are not serious diseasee.
February 12, 2019
The best shots of course are no shots at all. The vaccines prevent your child from developing an immune system - increasing the instance of perpetual sickness and ear infections, Though it's the risk of lifelong auto immune diseases from vaccines, that make it not worth the risk at all. When I was pregnant with my son, I did my research well, and opted out of all of the shots. The unvaccinated baby was breast fed, contracted measles and chickenpox naturally by age 6, getting over them within days; and has not been sick since age 6 once; Not a single ear infection, not a single cold or flu, no strep, nothing nada. Zip. Today at 20 he's strong as an ox, and smart as a whip. I'm so glad I never gambled with his life; The shots are not worth it.
June 10, 2019
My son has also never had any of those illnesses and he was vaccinated on schedule. The vaccinations were absolutely worth it and not to mention, he’s not putting other children at risk.
December 4, 2018
Quick tip for all you parents all out there: My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using the website >>>>SleepBaby .org<<<< - that website has been by far one of the best things I've ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children. Check it out! Sorry, you can't post links here so you'll have to turn it into a normal link. >>SleepBaby .org<< Best of luck to you and your family! :)