8 Ways to Make Shots Easier for Kids
Vaccines protect children from dangerous germs. Still, that’s little comfort when it’s time to get the jab. The good news is that there are ways to ease the pain—or fear of pain, which is the bigger problem.
“In reality, shots don’t ‘hurt’ that much,” says Herschel Lessin, MD, pediatrician at the Children’s Medical Group in Poughkeepsie, NY. “It’s the suffering brought on by the phobia of needles that bring on the pain.”
Here are some surprisingly simple strategies that can make your doctor’s visit smooth sailing.
Successful distractions include playing with a new toy, pointing out a picture on the wall, reciting ABCs, telling your child something funny, or blowing bubbles.
Cough it out
A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that coughing once before and once during routine vaccinations helped reduce painful reactions among children ages 4 and 5 as well as ages 11 and 12.
Dr. Lessin also tells kids over 3 to imagine it’s their birthday and that they're blowing out candles on a cake.
“It works every time," he says. "Or, I’ll ask them to blow on a pinwheel.”
Sweeten it up
In 13 of the 14 study trials, babies given the solution cried less during and after getting the shot compared with babies who received either water or nothing.
“There’s no downside to bringing a sugar solution with you to a vaccination,” says Dr. Lessin.
Turn on cartoons
A University of Georgia study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology showed that children were often less distressed when nurses turned on cartoons during immunizations. “Any distraction technique, whether it be cartoons, videogames, or another focal point, will make the experience smoother,” says Dr. Lessin.
If your doctor doesn’t have a TV in the examination room, ask if it’s okay to bring your own portable DVD player.
Use skin-numbing products
The cream blocks nerves from transmitting painful impulses to the brain. “(EMLA cream) works well, if you can find it over the counter,” says Dr. Lessin. “And you should purchase cream so that you can apply an hour before the vaccination.”
Fluori-Methane spray, which cools the skin, could also numb the area and reduce pain, according to a 2004 study.
The best thing parents can do is listen to the doctor and take control of the situation. Parents and doctors can work as a team to keep children calm and get the job done.
Offer a pacifier
A University of Michigan study found that pacifiers can reduce infants’ pain before, during, and after vaccinations. And dipping the pacifier in a sugar solution may be even more effective. “Pacifiers or any devices used as counterstimulation, competition with the shot sensation, can be effective,” says Dr. Lessin.
After the procedure, breast-feeding may also help reduce the amount of time spent crying by a baby.
Consider the order of the shots
In a 2009 study, babies were less likely to cry if they were given the combination vaccine for diphtheria, polio, tetanus, pertussis, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DPTaP-Hib, or Pentacel) followed by the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV, or Prevnar).
Children who received injections in this order proved to experience less pain compared to those who were given shots in the reverse order.