Making Immunizations Less Painful

by Dr. Dara Maker
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If your kids are anything like mine, or most kids (and even adults), they hate getting shots.  However, vaccinations are one of the most important ways to keep our children healthy and protected from serious diseases. Vaccine injections can be stressful for children as well as us parents, but there are techniques to help minimize the stress and pain.

Before the visit

First of all, prepare your child.  Nobody likes surprises.  For children older than 4, let them know a day or two in advance of the appointment, for younger children, let them know the day of.  Explain to them why they need the shot, what will happen, how it will feel and what you will do to manage the discomfort.  For example “you will get a medicine to keep you healthy. The medicine is called a vaccine and it goes in your arm with a needle.  There may be a pinch or a poke that lasts for a few seconds.“  DO NOT apologize to your kids or tell them it won’t hurt – evidence shows this doesn’t help, promotes distrust, and makes children think the injection will be worse then it is. 

Consider using a topical anesthetic, for example EMLA cream, to numb the skin where the needle will go.  They are safe for all ages and available in Canada without a prescription.  Ask your doctor when and where to put the cream prior to your visit.

During the visit

Most important – stay calm!  This will help your child stay calm.  Asking them to “blow out the birthday candles” can help them deep breath.  Distraction is also key.  Have your child choose a toy or book to bring, and distract them with it, or sing songs, tell jokes, or blow bubbles.   Of course, phones and tablets are also great distractors!  For comfort, hold babies and young children upright in your arms.  Older ones may want to sit on your lap too or you can hold their hand for support.

If you are breastfeeding, feed your baby before, during and after the vaccination, it helps decrease the pain.  If you are not breastfeeding, sugar water can be given to babies less than 12 months of age right before the shot.  – mix 1 teaspoon of sugar with 2 teaspoons of water.  For older children, you can rub the skin near the site where the shot will be given; this also acts as a distractor.

After the shot

Have some acetaminophen or ibuprofen on hand as it can help with minor irritations such as a fever, irritability or sore arm/thigh.  Don’t give them before the appointment as they can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines. But most important, praise and reward your child!  Let them know they did a great job and were super brave! Continue to breastfeed babies or offer them a bottle or snack.  With bigger kids a small treat is certainly well deserved! 

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