Parents of babies and kids with special needs know: blood draws and shots may be routine to the nurses, phlebotomists, doctors and lab techs who handle them, but they're no picnic for our little ones! Through our own experience and through chatting with other parents of babies and kids with special needs though we've come up with some pretty good strategies for parenting gently during pokes.
- Stay calm, both before and during the procedure. Children of all ages pick up on the emotions of their parents.
- Request someone new if the person drawing cannot get a good draw after a few pokes. Medical professionals are real people like the rest of us and sometimes have bad days or specific tasks at work that just don't seem to be going quite right. And that's okay-but when it's your child, it's also okay to request someone else try today.
- Make sure your child is especially well hydrated the day before the blood draw. This will make it easier to do the blood draw, which should make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Newborn and Infant
- Ask whether you may hold your newborn during blood draws. I was actually able to hold and even nurse my son during some heel pricks in the newborn days, which made it much easier to keep him calm.
- If your child can sit well supported by you, ask if you can have your child sitting in your lap to do an intravenous blood draw, much like how an adult would do such a draw sitting up.
- Stay calm and use your voice to calm your baby. It's disheartening to not be able to hold your baby when they are in pain and/or upset, but you can use your voice to let them know you are still there and help them stay calm. Whether you're singing a favorite lullaby or saying "shh shh shh", your child will be calmed by your voice.
- Nurse as soon as possible after the blood draw.
- Plan on nursing extra throughout the rest of the day, especially if your baby was very upset by the draw or had very much blood taken.
Toddler and Beyond
- Prepare your child ahead of time with an age and personality appropriate explanation. For my older son right now, this means a brief explanation, but not very far in advance, and making it clear that it is not a big deal.
- Make clear your expectations that it may hurt a little and its okay for them to cry or say so, but it is not okay for them to behave aggressively towards medical staff (or anyone else) or to shout (or whatever your specific concerns are with your child).
- Distract him or during the blood draw by talking, reading them a story, singing, showing him a show on a tablet or smartphone, or whatever else would be a good distraction for your child. An awesome company I recently heard about called Buzzy actually sells distraction cards that are perfect for this, along with their namesake device, the Buzzy, which distracts your child's body (I don't actually completely understand it, but it basically confuses and distracts your nerves and has been proven to reduce pain by up to 50%! They were on SharkTank this week so I'm excited to watch it online and hear them explain it more in depth then!) Blowing has also been shown to help, much like focused breathing can help with labor pains! Since hospital staff might not appreciate you blowing bubbles in their lab, I recommend something less messy to inspire blowing, like a pinwheel.
- Give your child a snack when they get home especially if they have had very much blood taken. You might even consider making this something kind of special, just as many adults have juice and cookies after a blood draw. This will help them rehydrate and replenish their electrolytes while also improving morale!
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