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How to Make Your Child's Shots Less Stressful

Parents and kids can agree: Shots hurt. We parents know that these vaccines provide babies with safe, proven protection against serious diseases. But that can be hard to explain to our little ones in a way they understand. What we can do is take steps to remove some of the stress that comes with vaccine visits to the doctor.

"Getting children each dose of every vaccine according to the recommended schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to help keep their children safe and healthy," says Dr. Andrew Kroger, a father of two and medical officer at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccines can save your child's life. Because of advances in medical science, babies and young children can be protected against 14 serious diseases by their second birthday. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children a year, such as polio, are no longer common in the U.S.—primarily because of safe and effective vaccines.

Even though you know you are keeping her safe from diseases, it's hard to see your child cry when she gets her shots. But you can take some steps before, during and after a vaccine visit to ease the pain and fear of getting shots.

Getting Prepared

Educate yourself to ease your mind before your child's next appointment.

"CDC's vaccine webpage has a lot of useful information to help parents learn about diseases that vaccines protect their children against, vaccine safety and the importance of on-time vaccination," Kroger says. "You can review this information before your appointment, and then you can ask your child's doctor any remaining questions you have about vaccines."

If you are seeing a different doctor than usual, it might also be helpful to bring your child's shot record. You can bring along your personal record to keep track of what shots your child has received.

6 Ways to Reduce Stress at the Doctor's Office

  1. Bring a comfort item, such as a favorite book, blanket or toy, to help a child feel safe.
  2. Be honest with older children. Let them know that shots can pinch or sting, but the discomfort won't last long. Remind them that shots help keep them healthy.
  3. Distract your child with a toy, a story, a song or something interesting in the room.
  4. Make eye contact with your child and smile, talk softly or sing.
  5. Hold your child tightly on your lap if you can.
  6. Take deep breaths with an older child to help "blow out" the pain.

After the Shots

Cuddle, hug and praise your child after the immunizations. To comfort a baby, try swaddling, breastfeeding or using a bottle. Comfort and reassure older children if they cry.

You might notice redness, soreness or swelling from the shot, but it's usually nothing to worry about. These reactions are typically mild and will go away on their own without needing treatment. To ease the swelling, place a clean, cool washcloth on the area. If your child runs a fever, try a cool sponge bath. You can also use a non-aspirin pain reliever if your doctor says it's OK. Some children eat less, sleep more or act fussy for a day or so after they get shots. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest, and give him lots of liquid. If you're worried about anything, call your doctor.

Mom and Dad, Stay Calm

You might think your child is too young to know how you feel, but research shows that when you act or feel anxious, even an infant can pick up on it. So provide your child with positive support. You can even talk to your child's doctor if you are feeling anxious, and the doctor can help reassure your child.

And always focus on the long-term good that comes with the short-term stress. "Remember, the pain associated with shots goes away quickly, but if your child catches a vaccine-preventable disease, he or she could be very sick for a long time," Kroger says.

Learn more about childhood vaccines at cdc.gov/vaccines/parents or call 800-CDC-INFO (800‑232‑4636).

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