It’s not easy to watch your little one get pricked by a needle. And the pain is no small matter according to a statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the beginning of 2016: “Pain that newborns experience from routine medical procedures can be significant…Research suggests that repeated exposure to pain early in life can create changes in brain development and the body’s stress response systems that can last into childhood.”
For this reason, the AAP now recommends that caregivers and healthcare providers take steps to reduce the pain of medical procedures, such as vaccinations, in babies. “There are handy, parent-centered ways to soothe your baby, which are often automatic,” says Mary McAteer, M.D., a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Here are some techniques you can use to minimize your child’s discomfort during shots:
Try skin-to-skin contact
The AAP suggests that being close to Mom or Dad during any procedure—particularly via skin-to-skin contact—will help your baby feel safe and protected, and will reduce her level of anxiety and pain during a vaccination. If you can’t manage that, the next best thing is to hold your baby on your lap and cuddle her close while the nurse gives the shot.
The AAP suggests that breastfeeding during medical procedures is one of the best things you can do to soothe your baby. Not only is it comforting for your baby to be held, the act of sucking on something is calming to babies, and the sweet taste of milk helps distract from the pain. Alternatively, you could let your baby suck on a pacifier, or a cloth soaked in formula. For toddlers, you could hold a lollipop to help take their mind off of the vaccination.
*Use a visual or audio aid
For older babies and toddlers, it helps to give them something to see or hear so that they don’t focus on the shot. Show your toddler a cool photo on your phone, or sing her favorite song. Before she knows it, the shot will be over.
Play it cool
“Babies and toddlers always sense their parents emotions; they’re programmed that way. So if you’re nervous about the shots, face up to your own fears so you don’t make your child more anxious,” says Dr. McAteer. “Remember that getting those vaccinations is the best thing for your child, and you’ll convey that confidence during the procedure.”
Consider it practice
“Getting a vaccination is a great opportunity for parents to learn more about how to soothe their child during a hard time,” says Dr. McAteer. “It’s a little practice session where you can let your child know, ‘I love you and I’m going to make you feel better.’” While all vaccinations carry some risks (of minor reactions), the benefits far outweigh those risks, says Dr. McAteer, since vaccinations help prevent life-threatening illnesses. “The scientific community is absolutely sure that vaccines are safe and effective, and that they help the individual and society.”
— By Rachel Rabkin Peachman