Baby getting a shot

A trip to the doctor can be frightening for your baby, especially when shots are involved. Try these tips from other parents for comforting your little one.

Don’t get there early

We arrive at the doctor’s office just in time for the appointment, not early. For that long wait in the tiny examining room, I make sure that I have a favorite toy and a snack/drink. We sing and cuddle and talk about all of the things in the room. I let her touch anything she wants except the dreaded “medical waste can.” We even wash her hands in the sink. After the nurse gets the necessary information, we undress, counting toes and fingers and doing the “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” song. I make sure that I tell the doctor a funny story about Jess, so that as she gets older, he’ll be more likely to remember her (this has worked well with her older brothers).
— Glenna

Treat the doctor’s staff like friends

When I take my son to the doctor’s office he’s not scared at all. That’s because the people who work there don’t wear lab coats or anything like that; they wear normal shirts and jeans. I took pictures of everyone in the office holding either Tyler or Logan and I made a photo album and put their names under their picture. We look through it the day of the appointment. He knows everybody there and he just loves them.
— Amy

Make it a family affair

I have three children, and I try to take them all with me to our family’s doctor and dentist appointments. That way, each child is “the patient” less than half of the time, and they can see that the doctor’s office is not necessarily a scary place. Sometimes someone gets a shot, but mostly not.
— Tracey
My husband and I go to my son’s vaccination appointments together. It makes it much easier on both of us. My husband can handle the needles and helps to hold my son’s arms while I talk to him as he is getting his shots. My son usually gets fussy with the last one, but a minute later he’s fine because he gets big hugs and we use our “happy” voices. He’s only 8 months old but has not had a problem being at the doctor’s office yet.
— Heather

Prepare for your baby’s doctor visit with our handy checklist.

Bring a toy

Take your baby’s favorite toy with you to the doctor. While playing with the toy and sitting on your lap, your child will be preoccupied and comfortable – making it easier for you, your baby, and your doctor.
— Michelle

Keep the same doctor

Try to keep the same doctor. That way your child can get to know the doctor (and vice versa) and the surroundings.
— Sunshine

Redirect your baby’s attention

For shots, my husband holds our baby upright with his little leg exposed and has him facing me. On the count of three, the doctor gives him his shot while I blow in his face to distract him… It really works!
— Kim

The best way to distract my child during shots is to hold her on my lap and tell her to “look at Mommy,” and then start blowing in her face as soon as the nurse/doctor gets close with the needle. I keep blowing until the nurse moves away. I’ve been doing this since my daughter was 4 months old and it has worked every time. She doesn’t even make a peep. Everyone is shocked at how well this works.

— kc1227
Before giving my daughters a shot, our doctor gave them a tiny bit of sugar water, and while they were concentrating on the taste in their mouth, they got their shots and they didn’t even cry! I was floored. I thought he was crazy for even trying this method, but it worked.
— no more tears
I put my face next to my daughter’s and sing to her while they are giving the shot.
— Lil’s mom

Offer a comfort feeding

The doctor encouraged me to breastfeed my baby while she was getting the shot and it worked, she barely made a peep. Apparently it comforts the baby and makes them feel less pain.
— Stephanie

Use pain reliever before the shot

Giving my kids a dose of acetaminophen about 45 minutes before the shot, their favorite toy, and a pacifier works wonders.
— Christy

April 16, 2012— — Tammy Littlebear of San Leandro, Calif., knows all too well the pains of dealing with a crying infant at the doctor’s office. The 46-year-old mother of three recalls the recent experience of taking her 16-month-old granddaughter Leilani to the doctor for routine visits.

She says as soon as Leilani got her shots, “She cried immediately. She was hysterical.”

Littlebear tried to calm her down by lightly rubbing her hair, blowing air at the site where she was getting the shot, and providing a kiss to the spot. None of this stopped the crying, though — and nobody in the doctor’s office gave instructions on how she could calm her granddaughter.

Now, a technique that doctors have commonly recommended to parents to deal with the pain of baby colic shows promise in easing the pain associated with infant vaccinations.

In a paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers examined the techniques promoted in Dr. Harvey Karp’s book Happiest Baby on the Block. They looked at five tactics intended to elicit the calming reflex in infants — tight swaddling in a blanket, holding the baby on his/her right side face down, shushing with a loud “ssh,” gentle swinging of the baby, and giving the baby something on which to suck, such as a pacifier. According to Karp, these actions — which he terms “the 5 S’s,” cause instant relaxation for the infants as they are reminded of being in the womb.

Lead study author Dr. John Harrington of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters says the idea for the study was conceptualized around the time that a study revealed Tylenol, often used for pain relief ahead of immunization, blunted the immune response to several different vaccines. He had attended a lecture delivered by Karp, but was skeptical the idea would work in this setting.

He and a team of researchers in Virginia tested the 5 S’s approach in more than 200 infants undergoing routine immunizations at two and four months. Some received the 5 S’s approach, while others received the comfort measures normally provided by their parents after vaccines. Half of the infants also received a sugar solution prior to vaccination, while the other half received only water.

As the babies were receiving their shots, the researchers looked for certain telltale signs of pain, as indicated by a common pain scoring system known as the Modified Riley Pain Score.

The infants who received the 5 S’s had less pain that infants that did not and scored just as well on the pain scale as infants who received sugar along with the 5 S approaches. At one minute following immunization, 30 percent of the infants who received sugar but not the 5 S techniques were still crying, while nearly none of the infants in the 5 S’s group were crying.

“The parents noted a difference,” Harrington says. “A lot of the parents wanted to learn the technique when they found their child calm quicker than usual.”

Karp says that the techniques can be applied in situations other than just at the doctor’s office — indeed, anywhere your infant might be crying.

And Karp says that there are broader implications to a baby’s crying than many parents realize.

“Crying infants is a much more serious public health problem,” he says. “It turns out that babies crying, and the fatigue and demoralization are leading triggers for an entire spectrum of very serious public health issues, like marital stress and postpartum depression.”

Studies are underway that investigate the 5 S’s in treating baby colic, preventing postpartum depression, and as part of an intervention to reduce childhood obesity.

Not all doctors are convinced that there is anything special about the 5 S’s approach.

“What the study shows is that soothing your baby is more effective than giving sugar,” says Dr. Ari Brown, Texas-based pediatrician and author of Baby 411. “I don’t think it makes the case that Dr. Karp’s method itself is superior to other simple maneuvers that parents can be taught that have been commonly used for years and part of the ‘5 S’s’.”

Brown adds that there are other methods which, if studied rigorously, might also show a benefit.

Still, the new study could lend additional weight to the 5 S’s system — particularly for parents and other caregivers who regularly deal with crying infants.

Littlebear, for one, says she will give it a shot.

“I would have done that if I had known that technique,” she says. “That actually sounds awesome. I am going to share that with a few new mommy friends.”

Vaccines Shortly after Birth

Protect your baby against 14 potentially serious diseases before 2 years old with vaccines.

Your baby’s first shot

Shortly after birth, your baby should receive the first dose of the vaccine to help protect against the following disease:

  • Hepatitis B (HepB) (1st dose)

All babies should get the first shot of hepatitis B vaccine within first 12 hours after birth.

This shot acts as a safety net, reducing the risk of getting the disease from you or family members who may not know they are infected with hepatitis B.

If you have hepatitis B, there’s additional medicine that can help protect your newborn against hepatitis B; it’s called hepatitis B immune globin (HBIG). HBIG gives your baby’s body extra help to fight the virus as soon as your baby is born.

After vaccination

Sometimes children have mild reactions from vaccines, such as pain at the injection site or a rash. These reactions are normal and will soon go away.

  • Read the Vaccine Information Sheet(s) your baby’s doctor gave you to learn about side effects your baby may experience.
  • Swaddle.
  • Offer breastmilk or formula more often. It is normal for some babies to eat less during the 24 hours after getting vaccines.
  • Pay extra attention to your baby for a few days. If you see something that concerns you, call your baby’s doctor.

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Treat mild reactions from vaccines:

  • Use a cool, damp cloth to help reduce redness, soreness, and/or swelling at the injection site.
  • Reduce fever with a cool sponge bath.
  • Ask your child’s doctor if you can give your child a non-aspirin pain reliever.

Important developmental milestones

Get tips to prepare for your baby’s well-child visits.

Shortly after birth, most babies:

  • Recognize caregiver’s voice
  • Turn head toward breast or bottle
  • Communicate through body language, fussing or crying
  • Are alert and engaged
  • Startle to loud sounds

Well-child visits tracker

Record your baby’s vaccines, weight, height, and developmental milestones.

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Following the vaccine schedule

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend children receive all vaccines according to the recommended vaccine schedule.

  • Get a list of vaccines that your child may need based on age, health conditions, and other factors.
  • Learn the reasons you should follow the vaccine schedule.

Vaccines are a big topic in the media lately—from the current measles outbreak to the growing sentiment of vaccine hesitancy, which the World Health Organization listed as one of the top ten threats to public health this year.

As a health brand it’s our job to talk about these issues in a way that is accurate, empathetic, and responsible. We know that the media can play a huge role in the way that people perceive and understand issues of public health—including vaccines. So when we decided to publish our package, Vaccines Save Lives, we knew that the headlines and images we chose to accompany our reporting would be just as important as the information inside.

The stock photography commonly used in stories about vaccines are often medically inaccurate in a range of ways, from showing the wrong syringes to showing shots being administered incorrectly. In addition to that, you typically see a lot of crying babies, anxious-looking patients, and close-up shots of oversized needles. While it’s no secret that getting a shot isn’t usually a fun experience, imagery that’s frightening and inaccurate only further perpetuates the idea that vaccines are just scary, painful, and something both parents and their children dread. And look, there might be some truth to that—lots of people dislike needles. But it’s also true that vaccines save lives.

Because of vaccines we are able to protect against serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, from the flu and chicken pox to measles, polio, and even cervical cancer. With high enough rates of vaccinations, we’re able to create herd immunity, which offers protection even for those in the community who cannot get vaccinated themselves.

We wanted to create stock photography about getting vaccinated that is medically accurate, realistic, and not fear-mongering. To make sure these photos accurately reflected what really happens when you and your family get vaccinated, we partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics in creating these photos. They consulted with us in advance of the shoot to help us figure out what images we needed to get. We then invited an AAP-affiliated physician to join us on set, to help make sure in real time that the images we were capturing reflected reality (for instance, that toddlers weren’t pictured on an exam table without a parent present, that doctors weren’t counseling patients in the waiting room, etc.). Then after the shoot we worked with the AAP to choose the final selection of images, eliminating pictures that didn’t meet their high standards. The AAP held us accountable for creating images that are not just relatable and beautiful but also accurate. And as with all SELF original stock photos, we wanted to make sure the images were inclusive, so that our readers can see themselves represented in our content.

All of the images are or from the AAP website with proper attribution—because we want people to continue to talk about the life-saving power of vaccines, and we want them to have access to free imagery that is both medically accurate and tells a positive story about the value of vaccines.

Getting vaccinated is a powerful part of protecting not just your health but the health of those around you. Vaccination is not just an individual issue—it’s a public health issue—and we wanted to create images that accurately show the range of people and experiences that contribute to that. We hope you enjoy them.

This story is part of a larger package called Vaccines Save Lives. You can find the rest of the package here.


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