As much as we try to avoid having our babies go through pain, sometimes it is inevitable — and sometimes, as is the case with vaccinations and blood tests, pain is part of something that is ultimately important for the baby’s health and well-being.
Luckily, shots and blood tests are both quick. But there are things you can do to help your baby feel less pain, be less afraid, and get through the procedure more easily.
Here are some suggestions that will help:
Hold your baby. Having you be close by, and feeling your skin against theirs, can be very comforting.
Swaddle your baby. When babies are wrapped up tightly, it helps them contain their bodies and their emotions. Obviously, shots and blood tests involve at least one leg or arm, so you can’t completely swaddle them, but you can swaddle whatever isn’t in use.
Breastfeed, if possible. It’s not always possible for the nurse or the person drawing blood to do their job while the mother nurses because it can be hard to hold the child still, and sometimes people worry about the baby choking on milk when he or she cries. But if it is possible, it can be helpful.
Use a pacifier. Sucking often soothes babies.
Talk to your baby. Hearing your voice is both calming and distracting to babies.
Talk to your doctor about using sugar water. Studies have shown that dipping a pacifier in sugar water or putting some into the baby’s mouth with a syringe can make a procedure less painful. It’s not fully clear how it works; it may activate the body’s natural systems for fighting pain.
As soon as the shot or blood test is done, pick your baby up and hold him or her close. That way the baby knows that it’s all over — and that you are there to take care of them.
Most of the time, babies are fine once the worst of it is over. But sometimes babies can have soreness where the needle went in, and it’s not uncommon for babies to feel uncomfortable or a bit sick for a day or so after vaccines. All the suggestions above can help with lingering discomfort. Usually medication isn’t needed, and after immunizations, using medications like acetaminophen .
Your doctor can help you decide what makes sense for your baby and your situation.
(Claire McCarthy, M.D., is senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing.)