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What to Expect from Baby's First Vaccines and How to Soothe the Pain

by Vannessa Rhoades 11 Jan 2023
What to Expect from Baby's First Vaccines and How to Soothe the Pain

Many parents dread the day of their baby’s first vaccinations. While most understand that vaccines provide vital protection for a child’s long-term health, it’s still gut-wrenching to watch your baby cry and know they’re experiencing pain. Fortunately, parents have the unique ability to soothe the side effects of vaccines in babies, making the experience a bit more bearable for everyone involved.

A recent Canadian study on managing pain in children took a closer look at parents’ ability to relieve their baby’s pain during immunization. Researchers concentrated on increasing parental awareness and adoption of pain-relief strategies through hospital prenatal programs. They discovered that after reviewing pamphlets and videos about how to soothe their babies, parents were more likely to use those methods at future vaccine appointments. Like the study participants, having the knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage your infant’s pain can go a long way toward reducing vaccination distress for babies. Let’s take a look at what to expect after a baby’s first vaccines and how to take some of the stress out of the experience. 

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The Significance of Baby Vaccinations

Most doctors agree that immunizing your child is vital to their future health. Babies are born with immune systems that can fight most viruses and bacteria, but there are some serious and even deadly diseases they are unable to handle. This is why babies need vaccines. Vaccines train a child’s immune system how to respond to potentially deadly diseases. Microscopic amounts of inactive or weakened antigens activate a baby’s immune system to make germ-killing antibodies. The antibodies are then ready to fight if and when your child’s body comes into contact with those antigens later on. Vaccines can prevent serious diseases that once killed or harmed many infants, children, and adults. Without vaccines, your baby is at risk for serious illness or even death from diseases like measles and whooping cough. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that it is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs. The recommended timing of each shot is based on how your baby’s immune system responds to immunizations at various ages and how likely your child is to be exposed to the disease. Vaccines are continually monitored to ensure they are safe and useful for children to receive at the advised ages. CDC vaccine information statements (VISs) explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine. VISs are available for each vaccine.

How to Soothe the Pain During and After Your Baby’s First Vaccines

Reducing vaccination distress and minimizing pain can have a big impact on deterring future medical phobias. Here are a few strategies for relieving the pain during and after a baby’s first vaccine.

Snuggle your baby

Some healthcare providers like to have the baby on their back on the examination table for a shot. Ask if they’ll allow you to hold your baby during the vaccination instead. According to the CDC, a parent’s embrace during the immunization process offers several advantages: 

    • It safely prevents your baby from moving their arms and legs during the shots.
    • It’s less scary for the baby (they feel hugged instead of “conquered”).
    • It helps caregivers console and soothe their baby.
    • It gives the doctor or nurse an easier target area for the injection.

For infants, the CDC suggests trying the following “comfort hold” for a child getting a shot in the leg:

    1. ​​Hold your baby on your lap.
    2. Place your baby’s arm under your armpit and apply gentle pressure with your upper arm for a secure, hug-like hold.
    3. Use your lower arm and hand to hold the child’s other arm gently but securely.
    4. Hold the child’s feet securely between your thighs or hold them firmly with your other hand.


Breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby on your lap is an excellent strategy for calming and relaxing your infant. The sucking action provides both comfort and a distraction. Additionally, research indicates that giving babies something that tastes sweet before and during painful needles significantly reduces distress. Breastmilk has a natural sweetness, or you may want to allow your child to suck on a pacifier dipped in a sweet solution of sucrose or glucose one to two minutes before the shot. The physical closeness, sweet taste, and sucking all work together to quickly soothe and reduce pain in babies.

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Ask for topical anesthesia

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about using a pain-relieving ointment or cooling spray (vapocoolant) prior to an injection. These medications desensitize the area and block pain signals from the skin.

Chill out

Babies can pick up on the energy you’re putting out. If you’re feeling nervous and anxious, they’ll start feeling it too. Try to exude love and calmness, not stress and guilt.

Consider a dose of pain reliever

If your baby is still upset or seems uncomfortable in the hours following the shot, ask your pediatrician about giving them a dose of infant acetaminophen. Follow their instructions for administration, which are based on your infant’s weight and symptoms. Avoid giving medication before the shots as a prophylactic to pain. There’s no scientific proof that this is effective, and it may even weaken their body’s immune response.

Monitor Your Baby for Symptoms After First Vaccines

Many babies experience a little inflammation at the injection site, a low-grade fever, and a loss of interest in food shortly after vaccination. These side effects usually only last a couple of days and are treatable. For example, you can apply a cool, wet washcloth on the sore area to ease discomfort. These are also signs that their body’s immune system is responding normally. Serious side effects are quite rare, but they do occur. If your infant develops any of the following symptoms, seek medical care immediately:

  • a high fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for babies under 3 months old and 101.5 or higher for babies 3 months and older)
  • cries inconsolably for more than 3 hours
  • convulsions or seizures
  • excessive sleepiness or unresponsiveness
  • any swelling of the face, mouth, or throat; a rash; or difficulty breathing (call 911 as this could indicate an allergic reaction and requires immediate intervention)

The Takeaway

Learn more about how you can prepare before your vaccine visit and review any vaccine information supplied by your baby’s healthcare provider.  If you want to do additional research, take a look at the CDC’s “Vaccines for Children” parent website.

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