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Breastfeeding Reduces Pain

Amy Tiede, RN, BSN
Rochester MN USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, p. 9

I wrote about my newborn daughter's first immunization appointment in my journal:

Elizabeth was frantic! She was held down on the examining table, legs bent over the edge while the nurse forcefully pushed against Elizabeth's shins and feet. I thought the positioning was causing the worst of the crying until the nurse injected her several times, each shot causing a more disturbing wail. We both left crying.

Six months and two rounds of immunizations later, my family moved cross-country. We were fortunate to have been given the name of a pediatrician who was a well-known breastfeeding advocate. The doctor suggested that I nurse Elizabeth during her immunizations. What a brilliant idea! During the next round of immunizations, my daughter did not even flinch. She did not cry during or after the injection. Her face never turned beet red as it had for her first two immunizations. We left the office as if we had just been on a nice afternoon walk. Apparently, my new pediatrician had been reading current pediatric pain research. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that breastfeeding effectively reduces response to pain during minor invasive procedure in term neonates.

Several months later, we once again moved across country and headed back to our home in the Midwest. I approached my pediatrician and her nurses with this amazing experience in the hopes that they would be as excited as I was. I very much wanted to breastfeed during her shots. They informed me that the safety standards of their clinic would not allow for such an "unsafe" practice.

Soon after this experience, I began reading all I could about pain reduction through breastfeeding. In my search, I came across an article on It described the findings of researchers at McGill University's Montreal Children's Hospital Research Institute in Quebec, Canada, which was presented at the Pediatrics Academic Societies Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Ronald Barr of Montreal, a physician at the hospital, stated that breastfeeding "is the simplest reduce the pain experienced by the infant." Another recent study showed that infant "crying and grimacing was reduced by 91 percent and 84 percent, respectively while breastfeeding... during blood collection" (Gray et al. 2002).

Recently, the memories of Elizabeth's first immunizations have resurfaced. I am expecting my second baby in the fall.

I have decided to search until I find a provider who will allow me to nurse before, during, and after the injections. I am frustrated and confused with those who are unwilling to allow such a benign treatment for infant pain. After all, in 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Pain Society mandated that pediatricians should respect and manage the pain that children feel from medical procedures.

We must not observe silently while our babies are crying in pain. Fortunately, the pain associated with getting a shot is one we can ease or prevent for our children. Why should we allow our babies to experience this as traumatic when breastfeeding during the procedure can make it much less frightening for them?

The decisions on immunization must be made by the parents with the information provided by pediatric providers. If you immunize, I would strongly encourage nursing during the procedure. I encourage parents to gently inform their health care providers, when necessary, of painless immunizations via breastfeeding. Perhaps parents should ask a provider's position on nursing during immunizations when conducting initial interviews. I am positive that there are providers who would allow, even promote, such an activity once presented with the facts. Our most important job as parents is to advocate for our children, especially when they cannot speak for themselves.


Carbajal, R. et al. Analgesic effect of breastfeeding in term neonates: Randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2003; 326:13.

Gray, L. et al. Breastfeeding is analgesic in healthy newborns. Pediatrics 2002; 109:590-93.

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