Make Shots Less Painful for Your Baby


By the time your baby is a year old, they’ll need at least 16 vaccinations. The pain of each needle stick is fleeting for them, but the stress of seeing your baby cry can stick with you.

Fear of shots shouldn’t steer you away from the recommended vaccination schedule. Vaccines are all that stand between your baby and dangerous childhood diseases like polio, diphtheria, measles, and rubella. “With each shot you get an increase in immunity,” says John W. Harrington, MD, professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

And vaccines don’t have to hurt. “You can do a lot of different things to address the baby’s pain,” Harrington says.

The Five S’s

The side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, swaddling, and sucking soothe fussy babies, and are also good distraction techniques during vaccines. Here’s how they work: You hold your baby on theirĀ stomach or side. After the doctor or nurse gives the shot, you quickly swaddle your baby in a blanket. Then you swing them, make a shushing sound in one ear, and place a pacifier in theirĀ mouth. When Harrington and his team tested the five S’s on a group of infants, the method decreased pain scores and crying time. You don’t need to use all five S’s, he says. Pick those that work best for your baby.

Numbing Medicine

For a child older than 3, a spritz of a cooling spray or smear of anesthetic cream before the vaccination will numb theirĀ arm or leg. Then when the needle goes in, they’ll feel less pain.


Breastfeeding soothes the fussiest of babies, and it may relieve vaccine pain even better than cooling spray. Try nursing your baby before the shots, as part of the five S’s, or right afterward.

Tandem Shots

At 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, many babies will need three or more shots in the same visit. It might seem like giving two shots simultaneously (one in each leg or arm) would accentuate pain, but the opposite is true. “When you tandem shoot like that, the brain gets confused,” Harrington says.

One thing you may not want to do is give your baby Tylenol before vaccinations. A 2009 study found the pain reliever reduces the body’s immune response, which could make vaccines less effective. But ask your pediatrician. If your baby is in pain afterward, a little Tylenol might be OK.

Finally, try to calm your own nerves so they don’t rub off on your baby. “You really want to have the parent on board,” Harrington says. “If they’re skittish about the vaccines, their emotions can increase the child’s anxiety.”

Ask your pediatrician

1. Which vaccinations will my baby need?

2. What’s the schedule?

3. What are the possible risks and side effects?

4. What will you do to reduce my baby’s pain during and after the shots?

5. What should I do if my baby has a reaction to a vaccine?

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