Pain Management During Immunizations for Children

Immunizations are a routine part of medical care during childhood. The pain caused by vaccinations can be upsetting, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety for some children and their parents, who may then delay or avoid vaccinations, leaving their children without protection from serious disease.

Parents play an important role in supporting their children during immunizations. Below are some tips you can use to help reduce the stress, anxiety and pain when it comes to immunizations in children under 3 years of age. 

What you can do: 

Breastfeed your child

  • If you are breastfeeding your baby, start to breastfeed your baby before vaccination. Make sure you have a good latch. Then continue breastfeeding during and after the vaccination.
  • Breastfeeding combines holding, sweet taste, and sucking, and is one of the best ways to reduce pain in babies.
  • Breastfeeding during vaccination is safe for babies, even newborns. There is no evidence that babies will choke or associate their mother with pain.



Hold your child

  • Position your child upright and hold your child close before, during and after the needle. This helps your child to feel secure and to stay still.



What you can give:

Sugar water

  • Breastfeeding is important for your baby. If your baby is not breastfeeding, you can use sugar water to reduce your baby’s pain.
  • Sugar water is safe for babies, even newborns.
  • Make sugar water at home or at the clinic by mixing 1 teaspoon of white sugar with 2 teaspoons of distilled water or boiled water. For babies over 6 months, you may use tap water, if the tap water if safe for drinking.
  • Give your baby some sugar water 1 or 2 minutes before the vaccination using a dropper (or syringe).



Topical anaesthetic

  • In Canada, you can buy topical anaesthetics to reduce the pain from vaccination without a prescription: EMLATM (lidocaine-prilocaine), AmetopTM (tetracaine), or MaxileneTM (lidocaine).
  • They are safe for babies, even newborns.
  • Apply them at home or at the clinic before vaccination.


For more information about numbing creams and patches for immunizations, read here


How you can act:

Your state of mind

  • Try to stay calm, use your normal speaking voice and be positive before, during and after the vaccination. This will help your baby to stay calm.
  • Children see and feel what their parents are doing and often do the same.
  • If you are nervous, you can take a few slow deep breaths to calm yourself. Breathe so your belly expands, not your chest. You can do this while holding your child.



Distract your child

  • Taking your child’s focus away from the pain can reduce your child’s pain.
  • While holding your child close, distract with singing or talking. For babies, breastfeeding is ideal for sucking. A soother may be used with or without sugar water, if you are not breastfeeding. Allow baby to suck (breastfeeding or soother) before, during and after the vaccination. Add rocking your child back and forth after the vaccination.
  • You may choose to distract an older child with toys such as bubbles, pop-up books rattles, or smartphones. If toys do not work, hold your child close and distract with singing or talking. Add rocking your child back and forth after the vaccination.



Parents Canada. Needles don’t have to hurt. This resource offers tips and information to parents to help reduce children’s pain and stress during immunizations.

Immunize Canada’s YouTube channel offers videos on reducing immunization pain.

Immunize Canada. Reduce the Pain of Vaccination in Children Under 3 Years: A Guide for Parents.

Last Updated: 05 April 2024