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It's important to keep your child up to date with vaccinations, and it's natural to want to make the shots hurt less. Fortunately, a little love and distraction can go a long way, especially with your baby or toddler. Here are tips for what you can do before, during, and after shots to make the experience as comfortable as possible for your little one.
What you can do before shots
Schedule immunizations thoughtfully. Most reactions happen in the evening right after the shots. If your child does have a reaction to a shot, you'll want to be close to home. (The MMR vaccine, however, can trigger a fever or rash seven to 10 days after the injection, and some children may be a little ill for a day or two.)
Ask about combination vaccines. Some vaccines can be combined to reduce the total number of shots your child gets. One such vaccine, called Pentacel, combines the vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP); Hib; and polio. Talk to the doctor about whether combination vaccines are an option.
Bring a lovey. If your child has a comfort object, such as a favorite blanket or toy, bring it along.
Give your baby something sweet. Studies of babies show that a sucrose solution can reduce acute pain. If you don't breastfeed (see below), ask the doctor about giving your baby (up to 12 months old) a sucrose solution before the shot. Another option is to dip a pacifier into the solution and let her suck on it while she's getting a shot.
What you can do to comfort your child while he's getting a shot
Hold your child. Ask the nurse what position works best. Comforting positions include cradling your baby with one of his arms behind you and gently holding his other arm, so that it doesn't flail while he's getting his shot. You can have your toddler sit in your lap, facing you and hugging chest to chest during the shot. No matter which position you use, it's important to keep your child still to minimize pain and prevent him from reaching for the needle.
Breastfeed. Breastfeeding during shots is a powerful pain reliever, because it combines cuddling, skin-to-skin contact, sucking, and a sweet taste – all soothing antidotes to the poke of the needle. Position your baby so the nurse can easily access the injection site and you can hold him still (see above).
Give your child something to suck. If you're not breastfeeding, having your child drink from a bottle or sippy cup, or suck on a pacifier, can be soothing.
Stay calm. Your child can pick up on your anxiety and distress. For his sake, take a deep breath and reassure yourself that you're taking good care of him.
Can the doctor numb my child's skin to make the shots hurt less?
There are mixed opinions about whether numbing or cooling the skin effectively reduces the pain of a needle prick. If you're interested in trying one of these options, talk to the doctor before the shot appointment.
Numbing cream: Some studies show that topical anesthetic creams – such as lidocaine – can help reduce pain at the injection site both during the injection and after. Some are sold over the counter, and others – such as EMLA – require a prescription.
If you're using a numbing cream:
- Get it in advance.
- Ask where on the body the shot will be given, so you can apply the numbing cream to the right spot.
- Get directions for the specific product. For example, find out how much to use.
- Apply the numbing cream about an hour or so, depending on the product, before the shot appointment.
- Wash it off afterward as directed.
Cooling spray: These sprays (some of which also contain lidocaine) provide an immediate cooling sensation on the skin. There isn't enough evidence to confirm how well these work, however.
Ice: There isn't evidence that applying ice to numb the skin before a shot helps.
Do pain signal-blocking devices make shots hurt less work?
There are differing opinions about the effectiveness of these devices and whether they're worth the extra step. If you're interested, talk to the doctor before bringing one to the shot appointment. Options include:
- The ShotBlocker, which has small, round plastic nubs that are pressed into the skin around the injection site. The sensation helps distract your shild from the needle pain.
- The Buzzy device, which vibrates to help reduce pain. The device is held on the injection site for 30 to 60 seconds right before the shot is given, then it's secured right above where the needle goes in when the shot is given. Some kids don't like the buzzing sensation.
Ways to comfort your child after a shot
Let your baby suck. Breastfeed, or offer a pacifier or a bottle. Swaddling may also soothe your baby.
Offer juice. If your child is 6 months or older, a sweet beverage can help soothe her.
Distract. Rock your child, talk or sing to him, or dance him around the room.
Apply a cool, damp cloth. If the site seems swollen and sore when you get home, this may help.
Give acetaminophen after shots, but not before
Do not give your child acetaminophen before shots. This is no longer recommended because studies have shown that acetaminophen may decrease the vaccinations' effectiveness.
If your child has pain or a fever that evening, you can give a dose of acetaminophen then.
If your child develops more than a mild fever (about 102 degrees F or higher) or any other symptoms that concern you, give his doctor a call. If your baby is younger than 3 months, call the doctor if he develops even a mild fever.