During my years as an OB nurse, whenever I had to take a baby for a procedure, whether that be a vaccination, newborn screening blood test or a circumcision, there is always one thing I did immediately when I returned the baby back to his or her parents:
If the mom was breastfeeding, I asked her to feed the baby.
Why? The reason is pretty simple. Breastfeeding is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a proven analgesic, or method of pain relief, for newborns. Not only is it physically comforting to the baby, but the act of nursing blocks the pain signals sent by the brain, so it reduces the amount of pain felt by the baby, too.
Aside from the fact that breastfeeding really does seem to act like a form of pain relief, it seems almost like a natural reaction when you're nursing a baby. Is the baby upset, crying, hungry or just fussy? Pop that boob in her mouth and it's like magic.
It could be the single best thing you can do to reduce the pain of a shot.
But in all seriousness, what seems to come naturally may be for a reason and now, a new review of the available studies on breastfeeding as pain relief might just make you consider asking if you can nurse your baby while he or she receives those dreaded vaccinations. And I say "dreaded" only because they never seem to get easier for me, even after four kids. I just hate those big, trusting eyes your baby gives you right before you watch them get jabbed with the needle and then the look turns to, "Why did you betray me, Mother?! Ugh, it gets me every time.
The point is, if you haven't done it already, talk to your doctor to see if he or she would be willing to let your baby be vaccinated while you breastfeed, because the studies suggest it could be the single best thing you can do to reduce the pain of a shot.
Researcher Dr. Denise Harrison, who specializes in studying pain in babies and, more specifically, how to reduce pain in babies, completed a review of available studies on breastfeeding and newborn pain. She and her team came to one simple conclusion, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews:
Breastfeeding will help reduce your baby's pain during vaccinations all the way up to 1 year of age.
The review was very thorough, looking through 10 studies with 1,066 infants and it compared how effective breastfeeding was in reducing pain during a vaccination to other pain-relief methods such as holding the baby or giving him/her water or sweet solutions.
The researchers found that on average, babies who were breastfed during the vaccination cried for 38 seconds less than babies who weren't breastfed. This is nothing to sneeze at, considering babies can't exactly tell you when they are feeling pain.
It's also important to note that the researchers did not find any risk associated with either the mom or baby nursing the baby during a vaccination, so there doesn't seem to be any drawbacks here.
Moral of the story? The next time you have to take your baby in for a vaccination, whether your little one is a newborn or getting that one-year check-up, don't be afraid to ask your doctor if you can nurse your baby during the vaccination. It might just help your baby be more comfortable.