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9 Ways to Keep Your Baby Calm at The Doctor

9 Ways to Keep Your Baby Calm at The Doctor

Follow these tips to soothe your baby during—and after—these essential procedures.

The life of a newborn is often a whirlwind of feedings, diaper changes, nighttime wakeups—and doctor’s visits. Even within their first day or so of entering the world, it’s essential for all babies in the United States to undergo a set of screening tests.

“These screenings are one of the leading ways that providers can find early-onset diseases that don’t otherwise pop up until later—and that can have severe consequences if not caught early on,” explains Mohammed Siddiqui, DO, a pediatrician at LewisGale Physicians in Salem, Virginia.

After those earliest days, your child’s first year may include at least seven recommended doctor’s visits, many of which involve vaccinations. These appointments can be overwhelming for both infants and parents. Your baby may not understand what’s going on—and could feel pain and discomfort. New parents, in particular, may be left feeling anxious. 

How to ease discomfort during newborn screenings
“Traditionally, people have underestimated the pain that newborn babies feel,” says Dr. Siddiqui. “It’s very hard to measure, because the baby can’t tell you—the only emotion they can express is through crying. But more recent studies are suggesting that babies do feel pain as much as children and adults do.”

The good news? This discomfort is typically short-lived. Plus, there are steps you can take to help comfort your newborn and ease any pain.

Be present. “For newborns, the thing that makes them most comfortable is being with their parents,” says Siddiqui. If you’re unable to attend a well visit with your infant, leaving a familiar object with them during the procedure can provide a sense of comfort.

Hold your baby. If you can, maintain physical contact with your newborn. “Skin-to-skin contact, snuggling, holding, caressing, even talking to them—these strategies can all be really soothing to your baby,” says Siddiqui. After your child receives a vaccination, pick them up and hold them close. A hug can help calm your baby from the shock of receiving a shot.  

Swaddle. Wrapping your newborn up tight can provide a sense of comfort and help put them at ease during any vaccinations. “Instead of having the baby’s arms and legs free and thrashing around, being held tight and comfortably can help,” says Siddiqui. If a vaccination or procedure involves an arm or leg, you may not be able to swaddle completely. Instead, wrap up the parts of their body that aren’t needed.

Breastfeed. You can help minimize any distress your newborn may feel during painful procedures by breastfeeding before and after appointments. If breastfeeding isn’t possible, offering a pacifier can help, as the sucking motion alone can soothe your baby.

Choose a pediatrician you trust. If you belong to a practice with multiple doctors, try your best to schedule all well visits with the same provider. This can help provide a sense of familiarity and comfort for you and your baby. “We don’t like to have people [parents] have never met come in, because that can really throw off how the child may react,” says Siddiqui.

Model the requested behavior. If the doctor needs your baby to open their mouth, show them how by doing so yourself. “Getting the parent involved in the procedure is especially helpful as kids get older,” adds Siddiqui. “The doctor can make a game out of it: ‘I’m going to look in Mom’s mouth, then Dad’s mouth and then your mouth—see, it’s harmless!’” As your child gets older, you can even have them try it on you or your provider first. “This helps them understand that it’s not painful or fearful—it’s something you’re all doing together as one.”

Distract. If your child becomes anxious during the appointment, turn their focus to something else. Bring their favorite toy or item of comfort, like a blanket or stuffed animal. Sing them a song, make funny faces or read a book. If they are soothed and distracted, it will be easier to get through the appointment.

Keep yourself calm. While you may feel anxious watching your newborn go through these screening procedures, it’s important to avoid giving off anxious vibes. “The baby has a strong connection with its parents, and if the baby is sensing tension in the room, that can make things more difficult,” explains Siddiqui. “If the parent is nervous or anxious and getting worked up, it can also make things uncomfortable for the people doing the screening or procedure, which makes it harder to work.”

Care for post-appointment discomfort. Every child reacts differently to shots and vaccinations. Your healthcare provider may suggest a dose of over-the-counter medication if your baby is fussy, uncomfortable or runs a slight fever. Be sure to ask what type of medication your child can take and the exact dosage for their age and weight. Many babies eat less after a vaccination, so don’t be alarmed if they aren’t as hungry. Of course, cuddles, contact and swaddling can go a long way toward helping your child feel better after the appointment is over.

The reality is that the first year of your child’s life is just the beginning of a lifetime of routine checkups. “If you can condition the baby in the beginning that you’re going to make every encounter with a doctor as calm and comfortable as possible, that really sets everyone up for success,” says Siddiqui.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Sources:
JE Swain, P Kim, J Spicer, et al. “Approaching The Biology of Human Parental Attachment: Brain Imaging, Oxytocin and Coordinated Assessments of Mothers and Fathers.” Brain Research. 2014;1580:78–101.
March of Dimes. “Newborn Screening Tests For Your Baby.”
National Library of Medicine. “Infant test/procedure preparation.”
Harvard Health Publishing. “How to help your baby through shots and blood tests.”
Stefano Bembich, Gabriele Cont, Enrica Causin, et al. “Infant Analgesia With a Combination of Breast Milk, Glucose, or Maternal Holding.” Pediatrics. September 2018, 142 (3) e20173416.

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