Taking your child to their pediatrician is already a bit of an ordeal in and of itself. So when you're getting ready for a visit that involves shots, it's totally normal for you to be more stressed than usual. As it turns out, though, there are things you can do to prepare your baby for vaccinations that will help make it an easy experience for both you and your child. (Plus, your baby's pediatrician will probably thank you for a scream-free visit.)
As a first-time parent, I had no clue what to expect when it came to which shots my son would need, when he should get them, and how the visit would even go. In fact, I was so worried about the logistics of the situation and whether or not I had packed enough distractions in his baby bag, that I hadn't considered if I'd done everything I could to prepare him for getting his vaccinations. It's tricky, because babies only understand so much, but I found out there are other, non-verbal things you can do to make the experience easier.
From pediatricians, experts, and parents who have been there, check out all the different things you can do to prepare you baby for vaccinations and ensure a stress-free visit for everyone concerened.
1. Keep Them Calm With Comfort
Dr. Anna Taddio, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto, told Parents, "physical comfort, sweet taste, and sucking reduce pain in young children," during vaccinations. So holding your baby, giving them a bottle, or pacifier could help ease your baby's discomfort and anxiety as you head into your appointment.
2. Be Honest
My son's doctor would always tell me and my partner to remember that babies can understand and comprehend far more than we think they can. So even if your child is young, try talking about what's going to happen in a calm and even tone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a great way to prepare your child for vaccinations is to, "explain that shots can pinch or sting, but that it won’t hurt for long." The CDC also suggests keeping an open line of communication and maintaining either physical touch or eye contact throughout the visit to keep things mellow.
3. Be Present
Often times, when you're checking in for your child's appointment, you might be fumbling around looking for their immunization records, insurance cards, or other necessary items you need. Though these are important things to have, any amount of time you're distracted takes away from your ability to focus on your child. "Come prepared before your child's appointment," the experts at What To Expect When You're Expecting wrote. "Your best bet is to keep their immunization history in a digital file." Preparing your child for vaccinations starts with you being prepared so you're free to devote your attention to them.
4. Create A Spa Environment
Children, even infants, are actually more similar to adults than most people will give them credit. Basic needs, like wanting to feel comforted or relaxed are universal, regardless of age. So, one thing you can do to prepare your baby for vaccinations is to massage them, like they're at a mini-spa retreat. Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, a pediatrician, told Kids' Health, "before 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."
5. Bring Distractions
Even if you tend to not let your child have too much screen time, now may be the time to bend the rules a little. Even babies can benefit from distractions while getting their shots. Dr. Herschel Lessin, a pediatrician, told Health, "any distraction technique, whether it be cartoons, videogames, or another focal point, will make the experience smoother."
6. Numb It Up
If you're particularly nervous about your baby being in pain, you can use a numbing cream prior to your infant's vaccination appointment to ease their discomfort. Dr. Laurel Schultz, a board-certified pediatrician, told Baby Center, "talk to your doctor about a cream called EMLA—a topical anesthetic that you apply about an hour before the shot is administered."
7. Give Them Ownership
If your little one is old enough to talk, letting them feel like they are part of things—rather than a human pin cushion—can help prepare your child for vaccinations. Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson told The Seattle Children's Hospital to "let your child be in charge whenever possible. Children can tell the nurse which arm to start with, or on what count to give the injection."
8. Dress For Success
In theory, the quicker the actual vaccination process can go, the better. So to cut down on any unnecessary time wasters, the Nation Health Service of the United Kingdom suggested, "dressing your baby in the right clothes saves time and effort at the vaccination clinic."
9. Eat, Sleep, & Be Merry
Doctor's appointments can be the roughest when your baby is still very young because you can't really verbally explain what's happening and they also can't articulate their needs quite yet. So, for children under a year, the Alberta Health Services recommended that you, "try to feed your baby one to two hours before the immunization appointment and put your baby down for a nap two to four hours beforehand." Making sure your baby is well-fed and well-rested is key to preparing for vaccinations.
10. Wrap Them Up
Dr. Ben-Josephtold Kids' Health, "you also can swaddle before the shot, but leave your baby's legs exposed for the vaccination." Young infants often feel comforted by being swaddled since it reminds them of the cozy conditions of the womb.
11. Provide An Itinerary
This has worked wonders for my son, but it may not garner the same results for others. With that said, if I tell my son what order we're going to do things in that day. In particular, when I sandwich vaccinations in the middle of our plans, he seems less frightened since it's not the highlight of his day. For example I'll say, "First, we're going to the grocery store, then the doctor, then story time at the library," he feels much more prepared than when we didn't use this approach.