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So, you've surpassed the first harrowing three months, where vampire-like nurses are constantly taking blood samples and issuing first vaccinations for your baby. After the first couple of doctor visits, your pediatrician will probably space out your well-baby checkups to every other or every three months, which means you'll get a breather in between booster shots and blood draws.
Unfortunately, that also means that your little one is growing old enough to sense stress and become nervous, especially if health problems mean that needles and drawing blood are common occurrences. As a parent, it's your job to control your emotions and make your baby feel comfortable and safe. Doing your best to make vaccinations a less-scary experience for your babe means fewer guilt-inducing screams as you head out of the doctor's office.
- Stay on track. If you decide not to delay or forgo immunizations, it's important that you stick to a strict schedule. Skipping vaccinations because you've forgotten, or don't have the time to head to the doctors, can often mean that your doc has to double up on shots the next time you're there. Instead of getting one or two shots, your baby then has to withstand three or four because you weren't on top of his schedule. Create a calendar that clearly marks the days your babe's due for shots, and hang it in a highly-visible area. That way, you'll prevent loading on the discomfort during trips to the pediatrician.
- Prepare properly. Your babe has probably become attached to a lovey or comfort item. Bring it along with you when you head to your doctor's office. Medical offices can be cold and dreary, which makes a colorful and familiar object especially amazing. Don't worry—no one will think you're silly for bringing along an old blanket or seriously worn teddy bear. It's par for the course around a pediatrician's office.
- Be brave. Believe it or not, your 3 to 6-month-old knows your face better than just about any other sight in the world. He's used to the way you look when you're calm and serene, so he can sense when something upsets you. Babies are acutely aware of their parents' moods, so if you're stressed and nervous about the impending prick of the needle, your baby could pick up that mood and be fussy as well. Keep a passive look on your face, offer eye contact and avoid allowing your emotions to get the better of you. If you feel guilty or worried about the process, offer yourself a reward for staying calm. If you both get through it, you can take your little one shopping for some new shoes or a new toy to help you both feel better.
- Offer stimulation. Dr. Rink Murray, a Tennessee-based OB/GYN, is used to giving shots to adults, kids and babies alike. He suggests stimulating your baby's skin in other areas while the shot is administered. "If you overwhelm the small pain fibers by stimulating the large touch and pressure fibers, people of all ages are frequently unaware they received a shot at all. What you do is playfully rub and gently pinch a large portion of skin... and during this, give the shot. It works for the same reason that rubbing an injury helps." Try rubbing and lightly pinching—not so much that it would hurt—your baby's skin during the shot. It might help to distract him from the sudden prick of the needle so there's less whimpering and wailing.
- Bring backup. Nothing calms a baby down quite like food. Have a bottle or the ability to breastfeed ready to go as soon as the shot has been administered. This helps your baby feel better in a few ways. First, he's enacting the sucking reflex, which is super calming for distressed babies. Secondly, it means you're close at hand and can offer physical contact, which he'll need after his shots. Lastly, breast milk and formula are naturally sweet, which can help temper the pain from the shot. Most doctors will give you a few minutes to redress your baby and gather your things; use the time to get your baby settled before you head home.
- Watch for reactions. Most 3 to 6-month-old babies weather the stress of vaccinations without being too worse for the wear. Your little guy will probably cry and need some extra TLC and rest for the remaining part of the day. Experienced parent alert: this is not the time to go have lunch with friends or show of your baby to Great Aunt Violet. He's going to be sleepy and probably a little cranky afterward, so head home and chill on the couch for the rest of the day.
It sometimes seems like the older your baby gets, the harder it is for him to deal with the stress, crying and pain from immunizations—strangely enough, it's probably going to get harder for you, too. Relax: your baby won't remember the events of the day after a few hours, and you can go back to being the protective mama bear once again.
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