How do you make vaccines hurt less? Breastfeeding helps, says researchers

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New research has found that mothers can reduce their babies' pain during vaccinations by breastfeeding them.

Even though we know that vaccinations are extremely important for your baby’s health, it’s something that plenty of parents dread. After all, shots are painful and are distressing for babies and parents. But new research has found a simple way to help babies feel less pain while getting their immunization shots: breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding babies cry for 38 seconds less while getting shots

Researchers from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that breastfeeding babies cried less than babies who didn’t—they cried 38 seconds less, to be exact. The researchers also looked at pain scores and found that babies who breastfed while getting their injections experienced significantly lower pain.

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“We already knew that breastfeeding reduced pain during blood collection in newborn babies,” lead study author Denise Harrison told Reuters. “However we did not know if the same effects would be evident in older babies beyond the newborn period.”

The researchers found that breastfeeding is more effective at reducing pain than other soothing methods, such as sugar water, pain creams, sprays, cuddling, or massage.

Why does breastfeeding help reduce pain?

Barbara Morrison, from the Wichita State University School of Nursing in Kansas, told Reuters that breastfeeding could relieve pain because of how it boosts oxytocin (a hormone linked with pain reduction and calmness) in both mothers and babies.

“Additionally, the oxytocin calm decreases stress levels, making infants more relaxed,” Morrison, who wasn’t involved in the study, explained. “The more relaxed one is the less the sensations of pain. Being separated from mother during a painful procedure causes the infant to feel abandoned, significantly increasing their stress.”

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Dr. Rebeccah Slater, an infant pain expert at Oxford University’s Department of Pediatrics, echoed the same sentiment.

“Breastfeeding is extremely comforting for an infant,” she told The Daily Mail. “When an infant has a distressing experience, such as a vaccination, they may be consoled more quickly if they are given the opportunity to breastfeed.

“Some parents do request that they breastfeed their baby when they come to clinics for vaccinations, blood tests, or injections. When this is feasible the doctors and nurses will often try to support this practice.”

 

READ: 8 reasons why some parents avoid vaccination (and why they’re not true)

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