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How Can I Comfort My Baby During Shots?

My baby cries uncontrollably when she gets a shot. Is there anything I can do to make the experience less traumatic for her?
- Kate

Getting shots can be tough on you and your child, but the benefits are worth the effort. Fortunately, you can do a few things to make the experience less painful and stressful.

If your daughter is a newborn or under 5 months old, try a method called the "5 S's" immediately after she gets a vaccine. These are:

  1. swaddling immediately after the shot. You also can swaddle (wrapping a baby tightly in a blanket like a "burrito") before the shot, but leave your baby's legs exposed for the vaccination.
  2. placing her on her side or stomach
  3. making shushing sounds in her ear
  4. swinging her in your arms or an infant swing
  5. giving her the opportunity to suck (whether through breastfeeding, a bottle, or a pacifier)

Research has shown that doing at least 4 of the 5 S's greatly reduces the amount of time infants cry after getting a shot. If you're OK with breastfeeding your daughter at the doctor's office (to fulfill the sucking recommendation), this alone can be an effective method of distracting your baby and calming her down. You might even be able to do it while your child gets the vaccine.

In some situations, a sugar water solution may be available. Dipping a pacifier into this solution, then giving it to a fussy baby may help soothe the child.

Before and after the shot is given, try applying gentle pressure and rubbing the skin around the injection site. This massage may prevent the area from feeling so painful.

For an older baby or a toddler, swaddling or shushing might not work. Try letting your child sit on your lap during the shot and distract her with a toy, book, or song. Try not to look upset or concerned. Children can pick up on a parent's anxiety, and it can make them anxious as well.

If your child has pain at the site where the shot was given or develops a fever and feels sick, speak to your child's doctor about giving medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms.

Also, don't forget to praise your child afterward. A little positive reinforcement can make the next trip to the doctor easier. When possible, try to do something fun after the appointment. A trip to the park or playground can make the overall immunization experience less stressful.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2015