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

By Rachel Rabkin Peachman
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

No parent looks forward to Baby’s first vaccinations. Even though the shots are crucial to his long-term health, seeing your infant in pain will surely induce panic. But did you know that parents play a crucial role in relieving 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 on reducing babies' vaccination distress. The tools included a pamphlet and a video.

After parents received the tools, "we found increased use of pain interventions at future infant vaccinations, and 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.

Hopefully, 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.

The Importance of Baby Vaccinations

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.

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. Together, these shots 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.)

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 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.

Cuddling and Feeding

Studies have discovered an efficient strategy for reducing the pain of shots: 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. "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.

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. Put the cream on the skin one hour before an injection to desensitize the area. 

Act Calm During Infant Shots 

"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 her vaccinations, 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 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 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.

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