Soothing the sting
Regardless of your opinion on childhood vaccines, almost everyone can agree that they’re a pain, literally. The dreaded flu season is upon us and, for many families, that means flu shots. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone, including babies who are at least 6 months old, get a flu vaccine. Getting shots is anxiety provoking; allowing a medical provider to cause your beautiful, healthy baby pain is more than unsettling. In fact, research has found that the pain and discomfort associated with shots is one of the primary reasons parents “elect not to perform timely vaccination or get flu shots at all.” Pediatricians used to give babies acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ease shot pain, but recent research found the drug might reduce their antibody response to immunizations. Breast-feeding has been effective for soothing after shots, but not all women breast-feed. So how can you and baby stay calm?
As a parent of two, I can honestly say that shots still make me cringe. Even though we go through it each year, it doesn’t feel any easier. Sure, my kiddos are getting a bit older now and we can talk it out before hand…but it’s still tough, and even tougher for parents with babies. However, a popular technique is giving parents hope. The method is known as the five S’s, popularized by the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” by pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp. The S’s include: swaddling, side positioning, swaying, sucking on a pacifier and shushing sounds. Together, these steps work to calm the baby by mimicking the sensations of being in the womb, according to Dr. Karp, and can even be used more broadly by parents to ease a fussy or colicky baby.
“Parents do many of these things intuitively, but they may not be doing them correctly,” Karp says. “You have to do them exactly right, or they don’t work.” For example, he says, the swaddling must be tight, and the shushing has to be pretty loud (think about how a vacuum cleaner can calm a crying baby).
Research published in the journal Pediatrics backs Karp’s theory. Independent researchers put the five S’s to the test by training medical residents to use them on infants undergoing routine vaccination shots at their 2- and 4-month, well-child visits. During the study, the babies received three shots in alternating thighs. The residents then swaddled the babies in under 15 seconds and provided at least three of the other five S’s within 30 seconds of the shots (some of the babies calmed down before sucking on a pacifier, the fifth S).
The residents rated the babies’ pain, based on how hard they were crying and their facial expressions, immediately after the third shot and continued for two to five minutes. They concluded that the five S’s calmed the babies significantly better than the parents’ efforts, or other remedies such as sugar water. After the study, researchers said nearly all of the parents asked to be trained in the technique because they were so impressed with results.
If you have a little one and are planning a flu shot visit in the near future, you can actually find videos of five S’s on YouTube so you can learn to master these measures yourself. Honestly, anything that can help lessen the sting to baby and your heart is worth the try.