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Easing Baby's Pain

Vaccinations and heel sticks are important aspects of well-baby care, but sometimes it's tough to watch the tears that can follow. Trying to soothe your baby's pain is a natural response, and a recent study suggests that it can have long-term benefits since babies who endure repeated heel sticks learn how to anticipate future pain and may experience a stronger negative reaction to it. Providing extra TLC during an injection may prevent babies from developing elevated pain responses. Here's how:

Breastfeed. If you are nursing, do so before a heel stick or vaccination to calm your baby, and afterward to comfort her. "You can even breastfeed during procedures in the hospital or doctor's office," says Marilyn Escobedo, M.D., a pediatrician and chair of the neonatology department at the University of Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City. If you aren't nursing, hold your infant closely  -- your presence is important, and skin-to-skin contact helps reduce stress.

Swaddle her in a light blanket. Most infants under 3 months like to be bundled, and after a shot, it can give a sense of security. Also, try blocking out some of the noise and dimming the room lights, as well as gently rocking or swaying your baby  -- all these can convey a "back to the womb" feeling and help her relax.

Divert your child's attention. Sucking on a pacifier is very soothing to babies and can distract your child from the task at hand. Sweetening the pacifier with a sugar solution can help, too. For an older child, try singing one of her favorite songs or reading her a story.

Hide your own fears. Because infants can pick up on Mom's anxiety, try to be as calm and supportive as you can during all medical procedures. Taking a deep breath and creating a positive environment may put your tot at ease.

Ask your doctor about local anesthetics. If the procedure warrants it, your pediatrician can provide a prescription for a topical numbing cream such as EMLA, a combination of the anesthetics lidocaine and prilocaine, to use before a blood test or injection. (It's not helpful for heel sticks.) EMLA takes about 50 minutes to take effect, though there is also a faster-acting, 30-minute cream called ELA-Max. For more serious pain (when an IV or stitches are needed), ask your doctor about topical anesthetics such as LET-Gel, Vapo-Coolant, and Numby Stuff.

Consider giving a pain reliever. Infant Tylenol is extremely effective, safe, and underutilized, reports Dr. Escobedo. Taken 20 to 30 minutes before a blood draw or heel stick, it can reduce pain significantly. Infant Advil and Infant Motrin work well, too, though they're only approved for use in babies 6 months and older.

Even with special creams, a calm, quiet room, and a breast to suckle, simply being at the doctor's office may frighten your infant. Just remember to hold her close and let her know you're there  -- both will go a long way toward comforting your baby.