How to Decrease Baby’s Pain During Immunizations

How to Decrease Baby’s Pain During Immunizations

Is your baby due for an immunization soon? Painful procedures can be upsetting for both mom and baby. Denise Harrison, our guest poster from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute & University of Ottawa, shares a way to make both blood tests and immunizations less painful for your baby.  



Reducing Baby's Pain during Immunizations


All newborn babies have blood sampling for newborn screening and preterm and sick babies require many more blood tests and other painful procedures during their hospitalization. Unfortunately these blood tests cause pain and distress for the babies and also distress for parents. The good news is that research shows that there are three very simple and effective ways to help babies during their blood tests.


  1. Mothers can breastfeed before and during the heel stick or venipuncture;
  2. Mothers as well as fathers can hold their baby skin-to-skin;
  3. Or, if these strategies are not able to be used, the babies can be given a very small amount of sugar water – just a few drops before their blood tests, and repeated during the blood tests if required.


To help parents know about the pain reducing effects of breastfeeding, skin-to-skin care and sugar water (sucrose or glucose), the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and University of Ottawa Be Sweet to Babies research team produced a brief YouTube video which shows babies having their blood tests while each one of these strategies is being used. The video clearly shows the power of mothers in effectively blocking their babies’ pain by breastfeeding or holding their baby skin-to-skin during the blood test, as well as the effectiveness of sugar water, for when parents cannot be present. The video, with an accompanying viewer survey has been posted onto YouTube in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese and will soon be available in Mandarin, Arabic, Hindustani and Inuktitut.


Our hopes for this video, is that it will help empower parents of healthy as well as sick and premature babies to advocate for their babies, and to work with the health care team members to support their babies during painful blood tests and other procedures, such as immunizations. We know that parents make a difference. Research by Dr Celeste Johnston (winner of the 2015 Jeffrey Lawson award for Advocacy in Children’s Pain Relief) showed that hospitalized babies whose mothers were present during painful procedures received improved pain management compared to babies whose mothers were not present. This highlights another example of the positive influence of parents in their babies’ care.


Reducing pain during painful procedures is important to all, but especially important to newborn and young infants and their parents. Breastfeeding or skin-to-skin by the mother or father, or small amounts of sugar water are all easy to use in any settings and are not only effective for newborns, but breastfeeding and sugar water continue to reduce needle pain during immunizations. In our “Secret to a calm and peaceful immunization” our Be Sweet to Babies immunization video clearly shows the profound calming effects of a mother breastfeeding her 2-month old baby boy Lucas, and sucrose, when given to Sam, aged 6 months.


Next time your baby needs a blood test or immunization, Be Sweet to Babies, and ask your doctors, nurses or other health care team members, ways that you can help to reduce your babies’ pain.


Guest post written by Denise Harrison (RN, PhD), on behalf of the Be Sweet to Babies Team.

Denise Harrison is the Chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute & University of Ottawa

You can connect with her via:


Facebook: Be Sweet to Babies

Twitter: @dharrisonCHEO


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Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.


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