Making Vaccines Less Stressful for Parent & Baby

Parents holding baby girl while doctor prepares vaccination
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Children get a lot of vaccines during the infant and toddler years. Although these shots are needed and offer important health benefits, they still can hurt and are a source of stress for kids and parents.

Infants need to receive vaccines every few months during the first year and will often get multiple shots at each visit.

Vaccines are necessary because they provide much-needed protection from serious and deadly diseases. Still, no parent wants to see their child in pain.

While you can't make vaccines completely pain-free, there are things you can do to reduce the stress for you and your child. Here are some steps you can take before the appointment.

Educate Yourself

Your pediatrician's office should provide Vaccine Information Sheets (VIS) that cover all of the vaccines that your child will receive during their visit.

However, these pieces of paper contain a lot of information, While it's all important content for you to review and understand, it can also be overwhelming. It may not be feasible for you to read it all while you are sitting in the waiting room.

You can also access the vaccine information sheets online before you take your child to their appointment.

Check the recommended vaccine schedule to find out what vaccines your child will need, as well as the VIS for your child's age.

If you have questions or concerns about the vaccines recommended for your child, talk to your pediatrician.

Do Your Own Research

While you may be tempted to get online and look up everything you can find about the vaccines that have been recommended for your child, it's important that you are skeptical of content you find on the internet. There is a great deal of inaccurate and misleading information online about vaccines.

"Doing your research" does not mean reading every blog, opinion piece, or social media post about vaccines and basing your decision on vaccines solely on what you read.

Being empowered to do your own research does mean that you seek out reputable sources to educate yourself about the vaccines your child needs, as well as what to expect from each of them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and are examples of trustworthy online sources for well-researched, science-backed information about vaccines.

Look for the HONcode symbol whenever you are researching health information online. Websites must adhere to strict quality standards to earn this seal.

Vaccines protect children from dozens of diseases that once sickened and killed millions of people in the United States and around the world. 

Many of these once deadly diseases are virtually non-existent in the U.S. today, in part because vaccination efforts have been so effective.

That being said, that doesn't mean that these diseases have been eradicated. If we stop vaccinating, they could come back.

Continuing vaccination doesn't just protect your family—it also protects the people around you who are at high risk for infection or cannot receive vaccinations because of a health condition.

Gather Your Paperwork

Write down any questions you have about vaccines to take with you to your child's appointment. Office visits can be hectic, especially with young children. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the chaos and forget all about the questions you wanted to ask. Bringing along a list will make sure you can get the answers you need.

You should also have a copy of your child's vaccination record. While many states have electronic records you can access through a secure portal, some still use a paper-based system. Ask your pediatrician's office how to obtain your child's records when you check in.

If your child has received vaccines in another state, make sure you let your new pediatrician's office know. They may be able to access the records through an electronic portal or request them via fax.

The office may ask you to sign a release of information form that allows them to request your chid's record from their old doctor's office.

Keeping a written record of all the vaccines your child has received helps ensure that they get the vaccines they need on the correct schedule.

Bring Distractions

Young children don't understand the purpose of vaccines and there is no way you are going to convince your toddler that a shot won't hurt. Even if you could, your child would not be apt to trust you again if the vaccine hurt when you said that it wouldn't.

While adults understand that the pain of a shot is temporary, it can be overwhelming and frightening for a child.

Having objects on hand to distract your child can go a long way in providing comfort in a stressful situation. Your child's personality and age will give you some guidance on what to use.

For example, if you have a young infant, feeding them or offering a pacifier after vaccines can be comforting. If your child is a little older, a book, snack, favorite toy, or a fun activity can help keep their mind off the impending shot.

Talk to the Doctor

If you are anxious about a particular vaccine or the number of shots that your child will receive at their appointment, share these concerns with your child's doctor.

Vaccines are recommended in the order and number that they are for specific, science-backed reasons. Having these reasons explained by a doctor that you trust can help ease your anxiety.

If you have a chance to read the vaccine information sheets beforehand, make a list of questions or concerns you have to discuss with your pediatrician at your child's visit.

Remain Calm

If you appear anxious and worried about the vaccines, your child will sense this and may follow suit. Children pay close attention to their parents' body language and emotions. The more confident and calm you are, the easier the appointment will be for your child.

Watch Your Child for Reactions

As a parent, your work isn't done once the appointment is over and your child has been vaccinated. While it's not likely they'll have any trouble after they get their shots, you'll need to monitor them closely.

The most common vaccine reactions are mild pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site. Some children may develop a rash or a fever.

Your doctor will let you know what steps to take if a reaction occurs. Most fevers can be managed with over-the-counter fever reducers if your child is uncomfortable. Just remember that ibuprofen should not be used in infants younger than six months of age.

If your child develops any concerning symptoms after receiving a vaccine, don't hesitate to call your pediatrician.

Give Your Child Some TLC

It's to be expected that your child may feel uncomfortable for a day or two after receiving their vaccines. You can help your child feel better by giving them a little extra attention, reassurance, and plenty of fluids.

After getting their shots, your child may have a decreased appetite. While you don't have to worry if they aren't eating as much as they normally do, it's very important that your child stays hydrated. Offer them healthy fluids like milk and water. Infants should be given breastmilk or formula as appropriate for their age.

What Not to Do

If your child is sick the day that they are scheduled for a checkup and vaccines, talk to their doctor about whether or not they can still be vaccinated.

Minor illnesses are usually not a reason to avoid vaccines. Symptoms like a runny nose and cough don't mean you need to skip your child's scheduled vaccinations. However, if your child has a high fever, their doctor may ask you wait until the fever gets better before they administer the scheduled vaccines.

Never threaten your child with a shot as a punishment. While it might be tempting to use the threat as a way to get your child to behave, it only teaches your child that a shot is something to fear and that doctors and nurses are punishing them when they give them shots. It sends the wrong message to your child and causes unnecessary anxiety.

Don't walk away from your child while they are getting their shot. Your child's doctor or nurse may need help keeping them still for the injection.

Some parents are reluctant to be involved, but remember that you are a familiar face during an event that can be frightening for a child. Holding your child while they are receiving a vaccine is comforting and can help prevent anyone involved in the process from being injured.

If you're not sure what to do at your child's vaccination appointment or are worried that you'll be in the way, ask the pediatrician or a nurse how you can help.

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Article Sources
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  • Instant Childhood Immunization Schedule. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Making the Vaccine Decision. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Your Child's Vaccine Visit. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.