How Can I Comfort My Child before and after Shots?

As parents, we have a tremendous amount of power when it comes to comforting our children. The same is true when a child receives vaccinations. To make the process as smooth as possible, try some or all of the suggestions below.

(Adapted from "Parents Can Help Reduce Pain And Anxiety From Vaccinations") 

Before and during the shots:

  • Talk to your child on the morning of the shot and walk through the events of the day, including the medical visit and shot. Then talk about the next event so that your child focuses beyond the vaccination (e.g., “We’re going out for ice cream afterward”).

  • Remind older children that vaccines are part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, just like using a car seat and seat belts for safety.

  • When it’s time to get the shot, the most important thing you can do is remain calm. Your child knows right away when you’re feeling anxious, and she will feel more anxious as a result.

  • Your child’s position during the shot can make a difference. Try holding your child in a way that’s more like being hugged and less like being restrained. Letting an older child remain upright establishes a sense of control and decreases fear.

  • Skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, or pacifiers may soothe your baby during a shot. Drinking sugar water before or during the shots can provide some relief from pain, perhaps by replacing the plain with a pleasurable sensation.

  • With older children, try taking deep breaths. The child can leave loose the arm receiving the shot, take in a deep breath before the shot, and then release a full, relaxing breath out during the shot. Focusing on one’s breath provides a distraction that may compete with the pain.

  • Talk to your medical provider about using a numbing agent before the shot, like 4% lidocaine cream (available over-the-counter at most pharmacies). It is applied to the skin and numbs the area so that the shot is less painful.

  • Ask your medical provider about a shot blocker, which is a plastic tool that blocks the pain from the needle’s insertion. If your provider doesn’t have one, you can buy it online or at most pharmacies.

After the shots:

(Adapted from the Immunization Action Coalition, “After the Shots . . . ”)

  • Immediately after the shot, try to distract your child with a game, a cartoon, a stuffed animal, or a song. Don’t dwell on the shot once it’s over. Emphasize what went well and then move on.

  • If your child is fussy after vaccination or develops a fever, you can give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce discomfort. If your child is uncomfortable for more than 24 hours, or the fever reaches a temperature that your medical provider has told you to be concerned about, call your provider.

  • If your child’s arm or leg is swollen, hot, or red, apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the sore for comfort. If the redness or tenderness increases after 24 hours, call your medical provider.