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10 Things You Don't Have To Do When You Vaccinate (Even Though Everyone Says You Do)

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Though we usually take it for granted, we are lucky to live in a time and place where, rather than routinely watching our kids and others in our communities suffer and die from childhood diseases, we can typically just take them to the doctor and have them vaccinated instead. Indeed, we're so fortunate not to regularly experience those tragedies that many of us stress more over vaccines than the diseases they prevent. I've heard plenty of things you don't have to do when you vaccinate, from a variety of sources, that may actually make getting vaccines way more complicated than it needs to be.

I definitely understand why people get nervous about it, especially when our babies are so teeny and new. I personally hate needles, and since most vaccines come in the form of a shot, I remember feeling a bit tense in anticipation of my newborn son's first round of vaccinations. Still, I knew it was important that he get them, so I explained to him (even though he was a brand-new baby, cause I'm a former teacher who still can't bear to pass up a single opportunity to impart language skills) that he was going to get something called a 'vaccine,' that it was going to hurt for a moment, but that it was really important for him to stay healthy. The first time he was vaccinated, he wailed, but quickly calmed down once the doctor's assistant finished up and he was able to nurse. We kept up that same routine at all his subsequent shot visits, and now he barely even registers that a shot is happening. I know it's possible that might change as he gets older and more aware of the shots are awful and scary messages out there but, for now, he's pretty chill about it (and so am I).

I often try to keep our schedule open for the rest of the day after he gets a vaccine, in case he’s a little sluggish or feverish. But most of the time he’s totally normal, save a bit of soreness where he got the shot. That's really the only special thing I do after shots, completely counter to all of the advice I got about handling vaccines (and counter to what I experienced when I was a kid getting vaccines of my own). You really don't have to do any of the following when you vaccinate and, in some cases, they might do more harm than good.

Lie About Or Avoid Telling Your Child About What’s Going To Happen

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Telling kids "it won't hurt at all" or just flat out not telling them they're going to get a shot is not at all helpful. That just teaches them that they can't trust us. Plus, they have a right to know what's happening to their own bodies, because it's happening to their bodies. Instead of fibbing, just be honest about it. Calmly saying that may hurt for a little bit and be sore afterwards, but you're there to comfort them, helps them see that it doesn't have to be a big deal.

Give Your Kid Tylenol Or Ibuprofen Beforehand

So many mom-friends told me to give my kid over-the-counter medication prior to his vaccination, to help with pain and ward off a fever, but I'm really glad I didn't listen. Turns out, giving Tylenol before a shot might actually interfere with the immune response the vaccine is supposed to cause, and may make it less effective. If a kid is in a lot of pain or has a high fever, that's a reason to give medicine, but administering medication before shots and as a preventative measure isn't necessarily a good idea.

Stress Out About How They’ll React

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It's so, so hard to see our kids experience pain. However, compared to all the aches, pains, and heartbreaks we'll have to witness over the course of our lives together, their shots are minor. The more we wince and freak out about the shots, the more anxious they'll be, and that only makes the experience harder and more painful for everyone involved.

Worry About The Number Of Vaccines They Get

Kids today do get more vaccines than in generations past, but that basically  just means they're protected against more diseases than their elders. That's a good thing.

Worry About “Toxins”

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A lot of folks who are opposed to vaccines have scared parents into worrying that there are too many "toxins" in vaccines, but a lot of this boils down to misunderstandings and scare-mongering about the ingredients in them. (Honestly, even dihydrogen monoxide, otherwise known as water, sounds creepily "unnatural" if you call it by its scientific name.) Some ingredients, like thimerosal, have been mistakenly believed to be more harmful than they are, and have been discontinued in infant vaccines to assuage those fears, anyway. Others, like aluminum, are actually found in greater quantities in breastmilk and other foods than in vaccines.  

Worry About Side Effects

Unless a doctor has identified your child as being too medically fragile to be vaccinated, it's very unlikely they'll have the kind of serious adverse reaction that's worth worrying about. Most likely, they'll just be a bit sore in the spot where the needle went in, and they may be a little feverish (which is actually a sign that the shot is working) and they'll probably be extra sleepy. (Not gonna lie: I can't exactly say I hate the extra long nap time.)

Worry, In General

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I know, it's basically impossible for parents to not worry. However, vaccines are safe. They are among the most well-studied, well-supported public health interventions in modern history. Again, severe adverse reactions to vaccines are incredibly rare, and worrying about whether or not they'll happen to your child offers exactly zero protection against them, so it's truly just wasted emotional energy. This is one we really can just chill out about.

Ask For A Different Vaccine Schedule

Researchers consider a lot of evidence and put a lot of thought into their recommendations for when to administer which childhood vaccines. All credible evidence strongly suggests that the current vaccine schedule is safe, so feel free to ignore folks who tell you that it presents too many vaccinations for young children's immune systems to handle.

(Note: Some parents decide to spread shots out over a few extra visits if a child is severely anxious about needles and can only handle one at a time for psychological reasons. That may not work for all kids, however; especially if the extra time to think about the extra visits just generates more anxiety.)

Nurse Or Soothe During The Shot

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This is one of those "your mileage may vary" recommendations. Some of my mom-friends suggested nursing and soothing my new baby during his shots, but that never sat right with me. I didn't want him to associate nursing or any of our other soothing techniques (like babywearing and singing) with pain, only with relaxation and relief. (Plus, once my child got teeth, I was not trying to risk getting bitten when that needle went in. Nope.) Instead, I just waited until after it was over to use my tried-and-true tricks.

Scold Your Child For Crying During Or Afterward

Sure, it's nice when kids don't cry, because less crying is better than more crying. Still, crying is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to feeling pain or being upset, so there's no need to make a kid feel badly if they cry during or after their shot. Just comfort them, say you're proud of them for coping and you're glad they'll be protected against getting sick. (Also, if your child is a boy, please don't tell him to "be a man" during or after his shots. Help immunize him against sexism and emotional illiteracy, too, by letting him feel whatever he feels without shame.)