Even though your baby is the one getting the shots, you have two very important roles to play: designated distractor and comforter-in-chief. What to Expect teamed up with the CDC to bring you these tips for making vaccines easier on everyone.
Most pipsqueaks dread the painful prick of a shot — or the doctor’s office experience altogether — making visits stressful on you too. And while it’s hard to see your little one hurting or frightened, getting vaccinated is one of the best things you can do to ensure his health and well-being. That’s why it’s essential to stay on top of your child’s inoculations (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a printable recommended vaccination schedule that should help). Once the appointment is on the books, use this guide to easing the process before, during and after the vaccines.
1. Come Prepared
Before your child’s appointment, read up on the scheduled vaccines and write down any questions or concerns you may have. If you’re taking your baby or toddler to a new doctor’s office, make sure to bring his immunization records with you. This data is also necessary for enrolling your little one in daycare, preschool or summer camp, and for international travel. Your best bet is to keep the history in a digital file, but your child’s pediatrician or your state health department will also have a record. Another must-bring on the shot day: a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket
2.Tell the truth
If you have a toddler or preschooler, be honest with her — explain what a shot is and what she can expect when she’s at the doctor’s office. Tell her there will be a quick pinch (or two) and that the pain she’ll feel will be over in a second. Tap her on the arm to show just how quick a second is. If she’s got an older sibling, enlist his support by having him talk about how he got shots, too, and it wasn’t so bad. Time your talk for the day before or morning of your visit so your little one doesn’t have a chance to let anxiety build over several days.
3. Ask Questions
At the doctor’s office, don’t be shy about asking questions like: What symptoms can I expect my child to experience in the hours and days after the vaccination? What are the signs of a serious reaction? What pain meds, if any, can I give to help relieve discomfort? (The Vaccine Information Statement [VIS] on the CDC’s Web site is also a great resource about vaccines and possible side effects.)
4. Make the Shot Easier
Learn how to keep your cool when your child is getting her shots. Cuddle your little one as you sing or talk softly and soothingly. Try to keep smiling and maintain eye contact so she looks at you instead of the needle. Use her stuffed animal, a toy or a book to distract her and if you’re breastfeeding, nurse her during the vaccination or right afterward to help calm her down. Skin-to-skin contact, suckling and the sweet taste of your milk are all natural pain relievers for a baby. A bottle or pacifier can help too. Just remember that children take their emotional cues from their parents — and even the youngest babies will be able to sense your fear and anxiety. If you’re a nervous wreck every time the needle appears, your child is likely to react in the same way you do. If you’re the model of mellow, your child’s likely to be calmer, too. So deep breaths! The good thing is it’s over quickly.
5. Hold Your Infant or Toddler Properly
The CDC recommends different holding positions for children depending on their ages. In general, a not-too-tight embrace is a way to go: too loose and your wiggle worm may slip away from the needle, too tight and your child’s anxiety may increase. For an infant or toddler getting vaccinated in the leg, hold the child directly on your lap with her side against you. Place your arm that’s closest to her back around her and hold her outer arm. Apply gentle pressure for a gentle hug. Use your free arm to hold your child’s other arm gently but securely. The CDC also recommends anchoring your child’s legs firmly between your thighs so she can’t make a break for the door.
6. Master the Holding Position for Older Children
For older children who are getting a vaccination in the arm, the CDC recommends that you either hold your child on your lap facing out or have her stand in front of you facing out while you are seated. Anchor her legs between your thighs so she can’t make any sudden movements, and embrace her as she gets the shot.
7. Comfort Post-Shot
The best way to soothe a just-vaccinated child is with a soft, calm voice. Support and empathy go a long way here — tell him you know that was scary and you’re proud of him for getting through it. Hold or cuddle your toddler or older child, and breast- or bottle-feed your infant if he’s willing. Two things to never do after your child has received a vaccination are scolded or shame him. Even if he sobbed the entire time, don’t make him feel bad about it. Tell him he acted bravely and that he’ll probably be even braver next time.
8. Minimize Your Child’s Discomfort
Most kids experience mild reactions to vaccinations, such as pain at the injection site, a rash or a fever. These are perfectly normal and should go away within a few days. You can help relieve her discomfort by putting a cool, wet towel on the injection site, drawing a lukewarm or tepid bath to reduce a fever, and giving your child an age-appropriate, non-aspirin pain reliever (as long as your doctor approves). Make sure she stays well-hydrated and call the doctor with any concerns. One last tip: A bowl of ice cream usually helps a lot!