By Hannah Richards
This happens to almost every new parent. I know it does. Because the nice nurse at the front desk of Intermed Pediatrics told me so when I came running out of the exam room with tears and mascara all over my face and breastmilk squirting through the front of my shirt.
Your child goes to the doctor’s office for their first set of vaccines, and the smiling nurse assistant comes waltzing in with fun BandAids and a teddy bear toy, and they stick 3 or 4 needles into your baby’s itty bitty thighs and….nothing happens.
It’s kind of like time stops….and the room becomes completely silent.
And then…it happens.
Screaming unlike any screaming you’ve ever heard. A scream that could not possibly be coming from lungs that small. And the nurses start blowing gently in your baby’s face to remind them to breathe in. And you realize that this could quite possibly be the first time your little bundle of joy has ever felt pain. And by the time you can curb all of your sobbing and pull the daggers of guilt out of your heart – you realize that your adorable baby is sleeping peacefully in your arms.
Getting vaccines is not fun. For anyone. Mostly for mom. But I’ll tell you what is much, much worse.
And Hepatitis – and Meningitis and Polio and Pertussis and a bunch of other diseases that most babies in the United States will never have to experience thanks to vaccines. As long as we keep up with them, that is.
Now this is coming from someone who won’t even take Asprin for a headache because I am generally distrustful of drugs. I grew up on homeopathic remedies and breastmilk. BUT, I always had all of my vaccines. And my daughter will too. Because kids still die from diseases that have no business even existing anymore. And like most parents, I would literally give my life to protect her. Vaccines just happen to be way easier.
Since I’m not a doctor, scientist or immunologist, I’m not going to elaborate any further about the safety of vaccines or how incredibly important they are. But if you’re interested, there is some excellent research here and here.
Instead I will offer all of the new moms (and dads) out there some tips we’ve picked up along the way for making those ouchy little life-saving shots more tolerable for everyone. Here we go:
1. If you are breastfeeding, ask the nurse if you can breastfeed your child while they give them their shots. Breastfeeding is seriously a miracle cure for all things (skin rashes, eye infections, chapped nipples, etc.) – and shots are no exception. As soon as I learned this little tip, Mia’s crying time during shots went from 3-5 minutes to nothing at all.
2. If you are not breastfeeding, ask to hold your baby in your lap during the shots, and offer a bottle or pacifier. Again, I am not a doctor, but my personal experience would indicate that the sucking motion is an extremely soothing exercise for babies – and when they are sucking, they are not screaming.
3. Ask Dad to come with you. I don’t know why this is true, but when my daughter Mia was an infant her daddy always had the magic touch for calming her down. I think it was because he was able to keep his cool, whereas I was bubbling over with anxiety and fear – and Mia could feel it. Also, since I was breastfeeding, anytime she was in my arms, but not currently nursing, she got very, very angry.
4. Go easy the rest of the day. Mia was always a little bit sleepy (hallelujah!) on the days she got her vaccines. So I let her spend a
little bit more time in her swing or in my arms, just rocking or nursing. The nap schedule and feeding schedule went out the window on vaccine days, and I limited visitors. I chose not to give her Tylenol (even when she had a slight fever) because our doctor told us the fever was a good sign of her body developing antibodies, and that we should let it do its thing. However, if your baby is really uncomfortable you should do what feels right, or as your doctor advises.
5. Know your baby. All babies are different, and they all react slightly differently to vaccines. Some barely notice or care, others get uncomfortable, or sore – or a fever. Don’t try to compare your baby’s reaction to someone else’s – or worse – Dr. Google. Instead, trust your instinct and your knowledge of your own baby, and keep in touch with your baby’s doctor if you have questions.
The bottom line is that vaccines are hard. They can be painful for baby, and even more so for parents – and they can make the already difficult job of caring for a newborn even more tenuous. But they are the best awful thing you will ever have to do for your baby – and for everyone else’s babies. Especially those too small, or too weak or too immunocompromised to receive vaccines themselves.
I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to receive such advanced and lifesaving healthcare for myself and my baby. I do not, and will not ever take that for granted.
For more great posts by Hannah, check out her blog Oh Baby Richards.