Getting your kids vaccinated (see the schedule here) is par for the course of caring for your baby and making sure he grows up healthy. The core vaccines for babies zero to 12 months have been proven to give kids a strengthened immune system to weather and/or prevent common illnesses. It doesn't meant that seeing him cry during his injections makes the deed easier to bear. They cause us distress and can traumatize babies in future encounters with needles. But now, according to a large review of studies, we can do more than shushing to ease his pain during vaccination: direct breastfeeding.
The new review of 2016 studies shows that infants who were nursed while getting their immunization shots had a shorter crying spell. In fact, they cried 38 seconds less compared to babies who were given other pain-relief methods such as bottles of formula, pacifiers, cuddling, distraction, topical analgesics, and skin-to-skin contact.
Researchers also noted that, based on observations of babies facial expressions and behavior, the little ones may have also felt less pain -- they scored an average 1.7 points lower on a scale of pain scores -- when breastfed while getting their injection. Their findings, which involved analyzing 10 studies involving 1,066 infants, were published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Review.
"We already knew that breastfeeding reduced pain during blood collection in newborn babies," said lead study author Dr. Denise Harrison, a researcher at the University of Ottawa and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, while referring to a 2009 study where blood is collected for newborn screening purposes. "However, we did not know if the same effects would be evident in older babies beyond the newborn period," he added.
The study shows that babies beyond the age zero to three months can experience this breastfeeding benefit at least until age 1.
"[Breastfeeding] provides comfort and it reduces pain. This is not just about distracting the child from the needle," Dr. Harrison explains to the Daily Mail. "There are also endorphins in the breast milk that have an impact, but we do not know exactly the role they play." It's even more cost-efficient way to make your child less afraid of injections, as nursing does not involve any medication, special equipment or extra training.
More research needs to be done to determine if the reduced pain is also as significant for babies ages six to 12 years and even older. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been pushing for moms to breastfeed their child up to at least their sixth month or until 2 years old and beyond. It specifically recommends moms to nurse shortly before or during vaccinations to ease their baby’s pain, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also gives out the same advice.
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Realistically speaking, breastfeeding may not always be feasible when your child gets an immunization shot -- the baby may refuse it, the injection site may not be exposed when nursing, or you may not be comfortable breastfeeding in public. Talk to your child’s pediatrician and ask for guidance on how to hold baby and still expose the injection site, or ask for more time to get your baby nursing comfortably before administering the vaccine. If it can possibly mean that your child will feel less pain above all the other alternatives, it’s worth giving it a first shot (pun intended).