When my babies were little I had a couple of fabulous pediatricians - one in Florida, and one here in Huntsville. Both understood the benefits of attachment parenting and strongly encouraged breastfeeding. Twenty-five years ago, the recommended vaccination schedule contained significantly fewer immunizations than today, and we had our children vaccinated on schedule. My pediatrician recommended that I nurse my baby as she was getting her shots. She barely even cried...unlatching for a moment to protest when the needle went in, but latching right back on and nursing actively until she fell asleep. I nursed every one of my children as they received their shots and never had a doctor say I couldn't do that.
Imagine my shock when one of my ANM mamas told me that her pediatric practice said she couldn't nurse during immunizations...she had to wait until afterwards. Some doctors have told mothers it isn't safe because baby might bite (mine never did, and that is NOT a usual reaction). I've also heard mothers say that they were told it, "just isn't allowed here." That's about the time I would respond with, "Then I think we just don't fit in here!"
Breastfeeding as Analgesia
There is considerable research demonstrating that breastfeeding provides an analgesic, pain-reducing effect in infants. This study published in 2002 in Pediatrics clearly demonstrates that infants who nursed during a heel prick had significantly fewer pain markers than those who did not. Clearly the act of breastfeeding, the suckling, the milk itself, and the close proximity to mother work together to reduce infant stress and discomfort.
If you know that you have an easy method of making immunizations less traumatic for your infant, why in the world wouldn't you take advantage of it? A baby who has a deep latch and is actively suckling is very unlikely to bite during the needle stick. If baby is snuggled skin-to-skin in a cradle hold position on his side, the nurse has easy access to his upper leg where the vaccination is normally given. It actually makes it easier for the nurse if baby is nursing contentedly when she administers the immunization.
If you are not breastfeeding, allowing your infant to suckle on a pacifier with sucrose has been shown to have a similar effect.
Convincing Your Doctor
Presented with the research mentioned above, most doctors should be willing to let you nurse through immunizations. Sometimes, however, a particular nurse just might not be comfortable with a mother nursing during shots. You might have some convincing to do. Here are some tips for you:
- Take a copy of this statement to your pediatriacian and ask him if he subscribes to AAP recommendations. If he/she does, then you should be allowed to nurse during immunizations.
- Refer to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine protocol on non-pharmocological pain relief during procedure-related pain in the breastfeeding infant.
- Kindly remind the doctor that YOU are the consumer, and YOU are the baby's mother who maintains the final say regarding your infant. You have the right to insist that they allow you to nurse during immunizations. If they refuse, you do NOT have to stay and get the shots. Find another doctor who is better educated.