Baby’s immunisation visit is one event no parent looks forward to. No one likes to see their baby crying when they are injected, and if they start acting up as a side-effect afterwards, it can be really stressful.
It’s for this reason, that it’s common for parents to want to look for ways they can make the experience more comfortable for their little ones.
Unfortunately, a lot of the advice given on this topic is outdated, and some practices can even interfere with how the vaccine works.
Here’s a few do’s and don’ts to help you ease immunisation woes without causing any harm.
Don’t immunise baby while sick, but also don’t delay unnecessarily
According to the National Department of Health, baby should not be immunised if they have a fever higher than 38.5 °C, or if they are moderately to severely ill. Immunisation is still allowed in babies with lower grade fevers and minor illness. The reason for this guideline is that many mothers have to travel far with public transport, and they may not be able to return to the clinic at another time. Delaying the immunisation may mean that baby doesn’t receive it at all.
If you are able to easily return to the clinic in a week or two it would be best to not immunise baby if he had a fever in the last 24 hours. Both the fever and any medication that you gave could affect his response to the immunisation. You also doesn’t want to take the chances of having vaccine side-effects in a baby already not feeling well.
Of course, if your baby gets sick very often you may have to compromise a bit and give baby an immunisation despite him not being completely well. Not being immunised also carries the risk for other infections. Your clinic sister or doctor should be able to guide you on deciding what is best for your baby.
Remember that a blocked or runny nose and mild coughing without fever or other symptoms are not indications for delaying immunisations. Many little ones have almost constant mucus problems.
Don’t give baby any medicine preventatively
Many mothers give baby a dose of aracetamol (or other medication for fever) before the immunisation, to prevent them from developing side effects.
It is important to understand though that not all vaccine side effects are bad. If your baby develops flu symptoms like a runny nose and a light fever it shows that his immune system is responding and building immune cells against whichever disease he has been immunised against. Therefore, it is actually a positive sign, and your aim should not be to immediately stop any fever. Paracetamol also has the potential to interfere with this immune response and reduce the immunity that your baby develops.
Only give your baby paracetamol if he is experiencing a fever higher than 38.5°C and above, or if you can really see that he’s not feeling well.
TIP: Heel’s Viburcol suppositories are a homeopathic product that is safe to use with an immunisation to prevent side-effects. Available from Clicks for R148.
Don’t apply ointments or patches to the injection site
For many years, clinics used patches to numb the skin on the areas where baby had to receive the injection. Mothers are often also advised to apply ointments to the injection site after the immunisation. These products can interfere with the absorption of the vaccine. If you suspect that it’s painful, rather apply a warm cloth to the area.
TIP: Heel’s Traumeel gel is the only product that studies have shown are safe for use with a vaccination. Available from Clicks for R137.
Do cuddle and distract your baby
For smaller babies, be ready to breast or bottle feed straight after the immunisation as this usually calms them down. For slightly older children, you can distract them with a noisy toy or a video on your phone. This usually does the trick. And of course, depending on their age, a small treat or the promise of a special outing will help them forget the trauma much faster!
Do schedule your clinic visit to accommodate possible side-effects
If possible, plan your visit at a time when you can be with your baby for the rest of the day in case he doesn’t feel well. It’s also not a good idea to go for an immunisation in the 2-3 days before a big event, for example, a christening or a birthday party.
Lastly, remember that most little ones actually cope with their injections very well. Your baby may cry from the initial jab, but they usually calm down fairly quickly and most little ones are fine after that. Very often they don’t develop any side-effects either. Give your little one lots of love and attention afterwards, and know that this too shall pass.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.