A From-the-Vein Blood Draw
Most baby and toddler screening blood tests involve a quick prick of the finger. But to get a firm diagnosis, your child's doctor needs a bigger sample -- and that means inserting a needle into a vein.
The Ouch Factor The tension of the band hurts, the needle pinches -- and the trauma of holding still with the thing dangling out of her arm is worst of all. Depending on your child's age, you may be asked to restrain her -- which could be more upsetting for you than her! "My son had his first big blood draw when he turned one," says Elizabeth Shaw, Parenting's deputy editor. "The lab tech instructed me to lie across his shoulders so he couldn't move. As he screamed and looked at me with these big, pleading eyes, I cried right along with him." Plus, a small number of kids will actually experience a blood or needle phobia that could cause fainting, says Martin Antony, Ph.D., a psychologist at Ryerson University in Toronto and author of Overcoming Medical Phobias.
On-the-Spot Soothers Before the technician gets started, ask for a topical anesthetic. If your child gets light-headed during the procedure, instruct her to tighten all the muscles in her body except the ones being used for the draw, Antony advises; this should raise dipping blood pressure enough to stave off a swoon. For some kids, pointing out interesting aspects of the experience can relieve fear, says Lori Gottwein, a child life specialist at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. That's what Jennifer Harshman did for her 14-month-old son, Alexander. Knowing his fascination with how things work, the Carmi, IL, mom turned it into a science experiment of sorts. "As the technician laid out her supplies, I told him, 'Look, she's getting ready to take some blood from your arm with those tools,'" Harshman recalls. "Then I encouraged him to watch the blood flow into the tubes." Alexander stared intently -- and never cried. But if you think your child is better off not watching, by all means have her look away.
Thinking Ahead Before arriving at the lab, give your child a brief explanation of what's going to happen and, most important, why. Try not to downplay the pain, but avoid overdramatizing it if you can. Instead, Gottwein says, use age-appropriate, sense-oriented explanations, such as "The nurse will wrap something like a rubber band around your arm, which will feel tight." You can also do some pretending with a doll at home to help toddlers and preschoolers get the gist of what to expect. One other tip: Do your best to control your own anxiety, suggests Antony. "Kids learn that a situation is okay by seeing that their parents aren't afraid."
Next: Filling a Cavity