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Baby jabs more painful with first time mums

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

11th January 2013 - Babies of first time mothers appear more distressed during routine vaccinations than those of experienced mothers, according to new research.

The small study by Durham University suggests that first time mums' anxiety is transferred to their babies.

Childhood vaccinations

The researchers say their findings are important as a baby's experience of pain shapes how they respond to painful situations later in life. Also, it could have child and public health implications if babies and toddlers miss out on routine jabs.

The current immunisation schedule in the UK requires babies to receive their first vaccinations at two months of age.

Fifty mothers and their two-month old babies were enrolled for the study. 19 were first time mums, 23 were stressed and eight depressed.


The mothers and babies were filmed during routine vaccinations and researchers later studied the videos.

How frequently the mums touched their babies, together with the expression of the infants, were analysed before, during and after the injections. After the procedure, mothers were asked to estimate their baby’s level of pain.

Babies of first time mums showed significantly more pain before the needle was inserted as well as during the first vaccination than those of more experienced mothers, the study concludes. These results were consistent regardless of the mother's mental state.

Overestimating pain

Also, all mothers - irrespective of whether they had previously had children or not - overestimated how painful their children had found their vaccination.

The study appears in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology.

Communicating anxiety

Lead researcher, Nadja Reissland, from Durham University's Department of Psychology, says in a statement: "Most mothers tend to feel a bit apprehensive about taking their baby to their first immunisations but for first-time mums it is a bit more daunting. These results show that a mother’s anxiety and distress is somehow 'felt' by the baby who in turn shows more pain.

"It is possible that first-time mothers get more stressed about taking their baby for their immunisations due to the unfamiliarity of the process, and how much pain they believe their babies are in could stop them from taking their babies for follow up vaccinations. This could result in children having incomplete immunisations.

"It is important that first-time mothers feel reasonably comfortable about the experience to reduce theirs and their babies’ anxiety."

Dr David Elliman, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says in a statement: "Vaccinating children is extremely important in order to protect them from infectious diseases.

"It’s extremely common for children to become nervous just before doctors carry out these vaccinations, so the mothers' behaviour during this time is very important in reducing the pain felt by their baby when being immunised - something this study emphasises."

More research

An analysis of the study carried out for NHS Choices says the findings should be viewed with caution, partly because of the small size of the study and partly because "other factors could have affected how the babies reacted, including their particular mood at the time".

However, it says first-time mums might benefit from being given more information about what happens during routine childhood vaccinations so they are better prepared for the event.

The authors of the Durham study acknowledge that further research is needed.

Reviewed on January 11, 2013

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