Your 6-month-old's finally starting to show signs of her temperament—a gummy smile for Cheerios, or a screech when you walk out of the room. While your child's blossoming personality delights you, it makes the bi-monthly trips to the doctor's office even harder than before. Whether she's timid or the happy-go-lucky type, all babies learn to cower in the face of needles around this age. By now, she's learned to localize pain—instead of radiating throughout your baby's body, she feels the pinch where the needle pricks her, and therefore associates the shot with her discomfort. Being aware of the pain source makes her that much more nervous when it's time to head to your doc's office for more vaccinations.
Now, it's even more important to learn to temper your own reactions. Using the wrong tone of voice, jerking your body or recoiling when the doctor enters the room signals to your baby that she should do the same. Make the process easier on both of you by working to stay calm so the shot is less traumatic.
- Watch your facial expression. Theresa Kledzik, a Neonatal Developmental Nurse Specialist, warns that a bad poker face can give you away to your bright baby. "Even if you don't think baby understands, just before the shot, the parent should tell baby that it's coming, keeping it simple, direct, short and without an overly concerned facial expression," she cautions. Also, watch your tone. If you start dragging out your words, your little one can hear the change in your voice, and will know something's up. Instead, be clear and keep your face impassive to stop your babe from working herself up.
- Don't play the blame game. Parents sometime deflect the responsibility of the shots or blood draws onto the nurses or doctors performing them. Hey, we get it; you don't want to be the bad guy here! But saying things like "That mean doctor hurt you!" isn't just super obnoxious, it teaches your baby to fear the very people who can help her. No one is at fault when vaccinations are given, so keep blame to a minimum. Besides, you definitely don't want to be known as "that mom" around your pediatrician's office.
- Distract, distract, distract. Direct her attention toward something else. A baby between the ages of 6 and 9 months starts to remember the frequent trips to the doctor's for checkups, which means she might start squirming and screaming as soon as you walk in the door. Be prepared with a game on your smartphone, a video, a picture book or her favorite lovey.
- Soothe baby. A 2011 study performed by the University of Toronto found that when compared with rubbing the injection site before and after the shot, parental soothing is actually one of the most effective ways to calm your 6-month-old during vaccinations. In fact, the study also pointed out that efforts placed on different methods of pain management could have been better spent allowing the parent to soothe the baby. Use a calm voice and offer plenty of cuddles to help your baby recover from the surprising pain of a shot.
- Bring a snack. Babies, especially older ones, love to eat. A snack directly after the shot can help calm your baby and switch her focus from the pain to something infinitely more positive. Just make sure you wait until your tiny tot has stopped screaming to offer cereal pieces, soft fruit or steamed veggies—otherwise, her rapid breathing can cause choking. This might even be the ideal time to introduce something sweet to your sugar-free babe: the new taste will distract her from the discomfort.
- Offer a little sympathy. Don't overcompensate by smothering your child with kisses, hugs and baby talk after the shot. "I think it would be optimal to offer sympathy commensurate with the insult, just like you would if she takes a little tumble while sitting/crawling/cruising," says Kledzik. Watching your baby in pain somehow can make you feel like the worst parent ever, but offering way too much sympathy afterward can set her up for a traumatic experience the next time around. Instead, a hug, kiss and soothing words should suffice.
- Slow down. Shots often cause stiffness and soreness afterward, so it's important you reign in your baby's mobility straight after the shot. Plan for a nap directly after at home, or another familiar territory. A University of San Diego Medical Center report on infant pain suggests you "decrease environmental stimuli such as noise, light, and handling," to help reduce pain, so a trip to the mall or to have lunch with friends can wait until tomorrow. Movement can help relieve stiffness, but if your baby is still fretting, offer a little infant ibuprofen to help ease any pain.
As always, you should talk to your pediatrician if your child has any reactions to the shots, including out-of-the-ordinary fussiness, pain, redness or swelling at the injection site or a sudden fever.
Luckily at this point, you're nearing the home stretch for vaccinations. What seems like a monthly occurrence will start to space out, giving you and your little one a rest from the constant stress of the doctor's office. A trip to the pediatrician's office doesn't have to be a battle, or even an occasion to dread. Use these tips to ease her worries now, and you may just have a brave kindergartener ready to tackle boosters in the future.