Why You Should Breastfeed Your Baby During Vaccinations

Updated: Apr 22





Are you wondering how you can help your baby during her vaccines?


As a parent, it's difficult to watch your baby endure medical procedures like vaccinations, blood draws, and finger pricks!


The first poke a child suffers often occurs within the first few hours of baby's life.


When we have to experience painful procedures ourselves we usually ask about pain relievers.


Is pain management discussed before that first poke felt by a newborn baby?


Usually not.


As a culture, we have failed to recognize the need for managing the pain of infants during medical procedures!


It's an area of study that's becoming researched more and more, but while there's LOADS of research out there on the benefits of breastfeeding babies during vaccinations, many parents and medical professionals are still not educated about it!


Often when you take your baby to the pediatrician for vaccinations, breastfeeding your baby during the administration of the vaccine isn't given as an option, nor are the benefits shared with you.


Sadly, even if you do know the research, if you ask to breastfeed your baby, the answer you may get is, "no," simply because the medical professional isn't educated on the research!



For this reason, YOU need to advocate for your child!


You have to be the one who educates your medical professional.


I've made it easy for you.


I've got the research right here.


One of the most frequent medical procedures a baby experiences is vaccinations.


Use this information to make changes and help set your baby up for success at the pediatrician for future visits, too! We know that negative experiences with needle procedures can affect kids' long-term, so set your child up for success by intervening early on!





Breastfeeding Baby During Vaccinations Reduces Baby's Pain


It's true! When you breastfeed your baby during her shots, your baby experiences less pain.


Why?


Because breastfeeding baby has an analgesic effect, which means it acts almost like a painkiller!



This literature review explains it best:


"It provides analgesia through several mechanisms including comfort (close proximity to the mother), distraction, and stimulation of the orotactile and mechnoreceptors (sucking on the breast), and presence of sweet-tasting substances in the mother’s milk."


How is pain measured you might wonder?


How do we know babies are actually feeling less pain?


Studies measure this a few different ways including how long babies cry, facial expressions, limb movements, vocal expression, etc. (with observers blinded to the purpose of the study).


Babies who are breastfed during vaccinations do not cry as long as babies who are not breastfed!


How much less are they crying?



38 seconds!



One study found that babies who were breastfed during their vaccinations cried for 38 seconds less than babies who weren't breastfed!


Not only are babies crying less, some studies have even found that babies who were breastfed during vaccines also had lower heart rates and higher oxygen saturation values during their vaccinations!


Those are some pretty significant indications that breastfed babies are actually experiencing less pain than babies who aren't breastfed during their vaccines!






Is Breastfeeding Baby During Vaccines Safe?



If you or your medical professional is worried about the safety of breastfeeding during your baby's vaccinations, rest assured!


There's no evidence babies will choke or aspirate!



This systematic review and meta-analysis took 55 research studies to assess the safety and effectiveness of pain interventions during vaccinations.


"Episodes of aspiration, vomiting, cyanosis, and respiratory change during and after the procedure were assessed for breastfeeding," to evaluate for safety.


They concluded that breastfeeding is an effective intervention that can be used safely (Grade A, Level 1 evidence).



Another review of the literature, by HELP ELiminate Pain in Kids, a panel of medical professionals, reports they found no adverse effects (gagging, spitting up, etc.) in the 71 research studies they evaluated.



In my several hours of studying the research on breastfeeding during vaccinations, I could not find one study that was concerned or suggested the need to be concerned about a baby aspirating, choking, or gagging, etc!


Is your medical professional still not convinced?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and The World Health Organization ALL recommend breastfeeding during vaccinations!


Who's worried about safety now?




Age


Wondering how old your baby can be to still have the same benefits of breastfeeding baby during vaccinations?


Research suggests children benefit up to a year old, though it seems not much research has been conducted past one year of life; so it's impossible to conclude that there's no benefit past one year.




What About Breastfeeding Baby to Reduce Pain During Other Medical Procedures?


Are you wondering if you can breastfeed baby to reduce pain during other medical procedures, not just vaccinations?


This study focused on blood draws and found the same benefits!


This study found that breast milk reduced pain for NICU babies' during their ROP (NICU eye) exams.


Other studies have focused on heel sticks and concluded with the same outcomes.


If you can swing it, breastfeeding during the procedure would probably have the same analgesic effect on baby! The tricky part is whether it's a feasible option considering the safety and logistics of the procedure.





Can I Bottle-Feed My Baby During Vaccinations?


There is limited research on bottle-feeding during vaccinations, so I can't suggest it (if I'm wrong, please educate me!).


I have only found one study, (which had the same outcomes as breastfed babies as far as cry duration and pain scale scores. Side effects were mentioned and recorded).


If you are unable to breastfeed baby during the vaccination, but you have breastmilk on hand, you could use a syringe to feed baby, just like how we administer sucrose during procedures to relieve baby's pain.


Not breastfeeding?


Using a syringe to give baby formula rather than breastmilk has not been well studied.


Lots of ideas for research studies!


However, research shows babies still benefit from being held, sucking on sucrose, and sucking on a pacifier during vaccinations! Choose a comfort position that would work for your baby here.




How to Breastfeed Baby During Vaccination


Thinking about the big picture, breastfeeding during vaccinations is an easy pain intervention!


It doesn't cost patients and families or medical providers anything extra.


I recognize, though, that the logistics of breastfeeding your baby during her vaccination may be overwhelming!


I'm ready to help!


Here are a few tips:


  1. Try to schedule baby's appointment just before a feeding time (maybe 30-45 minutes prior, depending on quickly you are typically roomed after arriving at your pediatrician).

  2. Remember to bring your nursing cover if that would help you to feel more comfortable! I love mine from Covered Goods because it gives me FULL coverage (front and back), it's thin and breathable, and it doubles as a carseat cover. Score!

  3. Discuss your plan to breastfeed with your doctor and nurse (or medical assistant) the first time they mention your baby will be getting shots that day. (The earlier the better so you have time to get everyone on board with the plan and not feel frazzled in the moment when the vaccines are sitting right there next to you). Decide with the nurse where you will be sitting and talk about how baby will be positioned (see more on Comfort Positioning here). If baby is getting one or two shots in each leg, baby might need to be facing out more rather than turned into you.

  4. Wait for the nurse or MA to enter the room before starting your latch. Be ready with your cover on and baby in your lap so you can start as soon as you see her enter. Allow your baby to breastfeed while the nurse preps her supplies.

  5. Remember to support your baby during the procedure by saying phrases like, "Here comes a quick pinch," and "all done!" While young babies won't understand, this will help baby learn these terms for the future. Remember that many 12-month-olds can understand "all done!"

  6. If you needed to educate your medical staff on breastfeeding during vaccinations, be sure to debrief after. Let them know if breastfeeding during the vaccine made a difference for your baby. If you had vaccinations in the past where baby did not do as well, you could mention that and thank them for working with you! That's what will help keep them providing care like this in the future!


Breastfeeding during vaccines has made such a difference for my children! I was not great at implementing this early on with my kids and when I finally did the difference was undeniable!


When I didn't breastfeed, my baby screamed after her vaccine until LONG after we even left the office (because I couldn't settle her).


The next time I was able to breastfeed her and she was a different baby! She unlatched for maybe 5 seconds to let out a scream and then latched again. She finished her nursing session and happily left the office. I was sold!



The research can't be ignored! If your healthcare provider does not let you breastfeed your baby during vaccinations, he/she might simply need to be educated by you!


Share these research articles and ask for a staff member who is comfortable to work with you on this pain intervention for your baby!


I would love to hear about your experience breastfeeding your baby during her/his vaccine! Please reach out at kara@childlifesaver.com or comment on my Instagram @karakimball







***DISCLAIMER: My posts are for educational purposes only and do not constitute professional medical advice.***



References


American Academy of Pediatrics Immunizations Frequently Asked Questions: Comforting Baby During Vaccination


Analgesic effect of 30% glucose, milk and non-nutritive sucking in neonates.


Analgesic effect of breast feeding in term neonates: randomised controlled trial.


Analgesia with breastfeeding in addition to skin-to-skin contact during heel prick


Breastfeeding as a Pain Intervention When Immunizing Infants


Breastfeeding for procedural pain in infants beyond the neonatal period.


Breastfeeding Is Analgesic in Healthy Newborns.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vaccines For Children - Make Shots Less Stressful


Comparison of analgesic effect of direct breastfeeding, oral 25% dextrose solution and placebo during 1st DPT vaccination in healthy term infants: A randomized, placebo controlled trial


Does breastfeeding reduce vaccination pain in babies aged 1 to 12 months?


Efficacy of Breastfeeding on Babies' Pain During Vaccinations


Efficacy of expressed breast milk in reducing pain during ROP screening--a randomized controlled trial


Inadequate pain management during routine childhood immunizations: The nerve of it


Pharmacological and Combined Interventions to Reduce Vaccine Injection Pain in Children and Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.


Reducing the pain of childhood vaccination: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline


The use of breast-feeding for pain relief during neonatal immunization injections.


World Health Organization position paper: Reducing pain at the time of vaccination



Other Resources


About Kids Health: Reduce Vaccination Pain in Babies - Breastfeeding


Be Sweet to Babies During Immunizations: Breastfeed to Minimize Vaccination Pain - Video


Caring for Kids Handout








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