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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Some physical comfort and a soothing voice may make routine vaccinations a little easier on babies without resorting to painkillers like acetaminophen, a new study suggests.
It's no secret that vaccine jabs create distress, for infants and parents alike. The usual routine in pediatricians' offices is to get the shots done quickly and then pass the baby into mom's arms for some comfort.
But in the new study, researchers tested the so-called "5 S's" approach -- a method of soothing a fussy baby popularized by pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp in the book "The Happiest Baby on the Block."
The "S's" stand for swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking.
As soon as the vaccine is given, the baby is wrapped snuggly in a blanket, then placed on her side or stomach and gently "shushed" and rocked a bit. If that doesn't do the trick, she's given a pacifier.
Based on the new study, the result is less pain and a lot less crying, said Dr. John W. Harrington, of Eastern Virginia Medical School and Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, who led the study.
"It's probably working as a distraction technique," Harrington told Reuters Health in an interview.
Different infants will respond to different methods of comfort, whether it's swaddling, a pacifier or being rocked, Harrington said. "If you do all of (the 5 S's), you're likely to hit upon the one that will help a child soothe himself."
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, included 234 two- and four-month-old infants having routine vaccinations.
The researchers divided the babies into four groups. In the "control" group, infants were given a tiny bit of water right before their shots, and after the jab they were passed to their parents for comforting. A second group got sugar water instead of plain water.
The other two groups received either water or sugar water before their shots, and then the 5 S's afterward.
Overall, the researchers found, the 5-S groups showed fewer signs of pain -- less grimacing and frowning. And their crying faded sooner.
Only a few were still crying one minute after vaccination, versus about half of the babies in the control group and 30 percent of infants given sugar water only.
By offering physical comfort and a soothing voice, "I think we're just tapping into kids' natural ways of comforting themselves," Harrington said.
But are the 5 S's practical in a busy pediatrician's office?
This study, Harrington said, was designed to test whether the measures work -- not how effectively they can be done in everyday practice. Harrington had pediatric residents on hand to do the 5 S's, which is a luxury not available in the real world.
But ideally, parents can be taught over the course of their routine "well-child" visits to perform at least some of the 5 S's, according to Harrington.
That way, parents will learn some extra tools for soothing their baby anytime, and not just after a needle stick. "Parents could do this instead of just giving them a bottle," Harrington said.
And unlike breastfeeding, he added, "dads can do this, too."
SOURCE: bit.ly/HLtF92 Pediatrics, online April 16, 2012.