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Whether or not you decide to vaccinate on schedule or not at all, chances are that your baby will experience some type of blood draw, pin prick or immunization during the first few months of life. And even the most steely of parents can't help but get upset when their little ones are showing signs of discomfort and pain. If this is your first child, the experience can be even more upsetting.
It's important to remember that young infants have short memories, so while your little one might seem uncomfortable during shots or pricks, the sensation is soon forgotten. Still, it's disconcerting to see your usually peaceful baby screaming after having her blood tested. While some of the tactics can help reduce crying time and avert fears, they can also serve to alleviate your worries when heading into a doctor's office. Here are some of our experts' best tips when it comes to comforting your baby during vaccinations.
- Stay calm. Hey, we get it. Watching your child go through pain goes against parental instinct; you want to protect her and keep her safe from harm. But when you start to tense up, even the smallest babies might recognize that there's a problem. "A parent can make a child feel comfortable and calm just by watching his/her own breathing and mental attitude," notes Julia Simens, a parenting expert and clinical psychologist. "A parent that is...content that they are doing what is best for their child will be more calm, breath slower and deeper. This type of breathing calms down a child." Before you head into the doctor's office, take a few deep breaths to steady yourself. It can also help to stay distracted while you wait—bring a book or a tablet to keep busy so you don't dwell on what comes next. If the idea of taking your baby for a blood draw or shot upsets you too much, it might be best to defer to your partner to help keep your baby at peace.
- Keep close. It's usually protocol for a doctor or nurse to ask you to place your baby on an examination table for shot. However, you can request to hold her during the process, which can help ease your little one's tension quickly. In your arms, your baby's able to hear your heart beat, a soothing sound, making her feel safe and warm. The exam table is cold and open, which is often scary for a small infant. If your doctor insists you use the table, try swaddling your baby first to help remove some of the trepidation from being hoisted into an unfamiliar, cold area.
- Offer sugar. No, don't hand your infant a lollipop after shots. Instead, Neonatal Developmental Nurse Specialist Theresa Kledzik suggests putting a few drops of sucrose solution onto a pacifier, and offering it to your baby just after the poke to stop her tears. Breastfeeding directly after vaccinations is another option that helps to comfort and soothe your baby. The soothing sucking reflex paired with the sweet taste makes for a quick calm-down after the pain of the needle.
- Breast or bottle. If sucking on a pacifier doesn't help your baby settle, it's time to bring out the big guns. Eating is a therapeutic activity for babies. After the doctor finishes and leaves the room, feel free to take a few moments to soothe your baby with the breast or bottle. If your baby is bottle fed, have one ready to offer directly after the shot. The feeding reflex will help your baby relax and forget about the shot.
- Allow rest. After the stress, discomfort and crying at the doctor's office, your infant is going to be sleepy. While you might be anxious for some guilt-reducing parent time with your baby, allow her time to rest after shots. Plan your check-up around nap times, and then plan to spend a long period of time at home. This way, you'll avoid jostling your little one arround in a car, keeping her awake and fussy.
- Be realistic. Just about every baby cries when pricked with a needle—after all, it hurts you, doesn't it? So you should expect some short-lived discomfort. Amy Baxter, a pediatric physician warns, "With all of these interventions, babies usually still cry, but the duration of crying is decreased and the recovery is faster."
As much as you'd love for shots to be pain-free for your small baby, the truth of the matter is that she'll be uncomfortable for a short while. If your baby remains fussy and clearly uncomfortable for more than 24 hours following the shot or blood draw, contact your pediatrician, as she may be having a reaction to the procedure. Baxter notes that the responsibility is on you, as the parent. "The biggest problem is advocating for your child: nurses have to give so many shots, and it's much faster for them to just hold the baby down and go rather than arranging the cuddle."
Make your voice heard and work to ensure the most comfort for your baby by keeping her close and offering plenty of love and attention afterward. That way, shots and blood draws will be less traumatic—for the both of you.
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