Sugar Water Eases Vaccine Pain for Babies

Study Shows Infants Feel Less Pain When They Drink a Sugary Solution Before Vaccination

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010 -- We know that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and now new research shows it may also take some of the ouch out of your infant's routine shots.

The findings, which appear in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, show that infants up to 1 year of age shed fewer tears and may feel less pain when they drink a sweet-tasting sugary solution (sucrose or glucose water) before their routine immunization, when compared with infants who tasted water or received no treatment.

"Sucrose or glucose along with other recommended physical or psychological pain reduction strategies such as non-nutritive sucking (NNS), breastfeeding or effective means of distraction should be consistently utilized for immunization," conclude the researchers, who were led by Denise Harrison of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

NNS typically refers to the use of pacifiers or sucking on thumbs or other fingers. The researchers can't recommend precise doses or concentrations of sugar water at this time, but they definitely feel this practice is worth a shot. "Health care professionals should consider using sucrose or glucose before and during immunization," they conclude.

For children getting multiple shots, they suggest giving the sugar water before the first shot and throughout the procedure so the pain-relieving effects last.

Researchers analyzed 14 studies of infants up to 1 year of age who received sugar water (sucrose or glucose), plain water, or nothing before getting their routine immunizations. The studies comprised data on 1,674 shots. The study found that infants given sugar water cried less than infants who received water or nothing in 13 of the 14 studies reviewed. The effects tended to wane as infants aged.

"This is something we do all the time before a circumcision in a newborn," says Laura Wilwerding, MD, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

"We dip a gloved finger in sucrose water because it is pretty well-accepted that sucrose or glucose water work as anesthesia," she says. "It is good news that this helps with shots as infants grow older."

Sugary solutions can be used in other situations as well. "It can also be a useful strategy to get kids to settle down for stitches, especially if they are at an age where they are still sucking on a pacifier," she suggests. Parents can dip the pacifier in the sweet solution, she explains.

Show Sources


Harrison, D. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2010; vol 95: pp 406-413.

Laura Wilwerding, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.

Piscane A. Pediatrics, 2010; vol 125: pp e1448-e1452.

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