Calming Babies After Shots

Vaccinating babies protects them from a host of deadly diseases, but how to protect them from the pain of all those shots? A new study points to the popular “5 S’s” technique pioneered by renowned pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D.


The study, by researchers at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, VA., says the Karp technique – originally developed as a way to soothe colicky infants – also calms babies who’ve just received a vaccination. Karp is the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (Bantam, 2003; $16).


His 5 S’s technique calls for calming an infant by tight swaddling; placing the baby on his/her side or stomach (but not using the stomach position for putting your baby to sleep, since this has been associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); making shushing noises (which imitate the sound of blood flowing near the womb); swinging the baby rhythmically by rocking, car rides, a motorized baby swing, etc.  and allowing the baby to suck (which triggers a calming reflex).


Researchers divided 230 infants receiving their 2-month or 4-month checkups into four groups. The first were given plain water two minutes before their vaccinations. The second received sugar-water, which had been the gold standard for vaccination pain relief in infants. In the third group, caregivers employed the 5 S’s after the shot, while the final group received sugar-water before the shot and the 5 S’s treatment afterward.


Babies receiving water or sugar-water alone were still crying at least two minutes after their shots, but most of the babies who received the 5 S’s had stopped crying by 45 seconds – and all had stopped within one minute.


Another effective way to reduce pain in infants, breastfeeding, wasn’t included in the study. It provides infants with skin-to-skin contact and the sugar from mother’s milk, but breastfeeding in a pediatrician’s office isn’t an option for all moms.


Lead study author John Harrington, M.D., says the 5 S’s were more effective than the other methods, but that the study didn’t evaluate each specifically. “I think the main thing is doing at least three to four of the S’s to get the full effect,” he says.


The study was published in a spring issue of Pediatrics. 

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