Preparing to Immunize

You know your child best, which makes you an expert in preparing your child for life experiences. This includes your child’s immunization appointments.

As a parent, it’s okay – and normal – to feel a bit nervous about your child getting a needle.

Many parents are a bit nervous about their child’s immunization appointments … sometimes even more nervous than their children!

The most important thing to remember is that your child’s experience will be shaped by your guidance and example.

Before the appointment, and at the appointment, try to relax and have a calm and positive tone with your child, at all ages and stages. 

Here are a few extra tips that, in our experience, can help you and your child before, during and after the appointment.

Before the appointment

At the appointment

During immunization

After immunization


Before the appointment

Infant (newborn to 12 months)

  • A well-rested and comfortable baby is a baby well prepared to be immunized.
  • Try to feed your baby one to two hours before the immunization appointment.
  • Try to put your baby down for a nap two to four hours before the immunization appointment.
  • Dress your baby so that he or she is physically comfortable.

Toddlers (12 months to three years) and younger children (three to nine years)

  • It is often best to tell your child that he or she is going to see a nurse, before the appointment. Though your child – depending on his or her age – may have different levels of understanding, by talking to your child about the appointment ahead of time, you have the opportunity to teach your child to think positively about the nurse and the experience.
  • When talking to your child about the appointment, or about needles, it is a good idea to explain the needle as being just something that will feel like a prick, and may sting. Here are some fun colouring sheets that you can use to start the conversation.

Older children and teens (10 through 18 years)

  • Talk to your child/teen about immunization, before the appointment. Older children and teens are more likely to have questions about why they need the immunization, and this is a good time to help them understand that the immunizations will keep them from getting sick.
  • You may also want to talk to your child/teen about things that you did to help them through immunization appointments in the past. This can help you and your child decide on strategies they can use now, to ease any anxiety they might be feeling before or during their immunization. 

At the appointment

Discuss your child’s health history with the nurse

At your child’s immunization appointment, your nurse will talk to you about your child’s health history before giving your child any vaccines. This will include questions about any medicines your child is taking, health conditions your child has or is experiencing, as well as any allergies your child may have. Your nurse will guide you on what is safe for your child, based on your child’s health history.

Inform the nurse of all allergies

When your nurse talks to you about your child’s health history, it is important that you inform your nurse of any and all of your child’s allergies before your child receives any vaccines. Your nurse will guide you on what is safe for your child, based on your child’s health history, including any allergies your child may have.

Sick child on immunization day

If your child is sick or has a fever on the day of his or her immunization appointment, be sure to let your nurse know, before your child receives any vaccines. Your nurse will assess whether your child should still receive immunizations that day, or whether it’s better to reschedule.

During immunization

Infant (newborn to 12 months)

  • Cuddle your baby. Studies have found that babies who are held while getting a needle tend to cry less.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, you can also try feeding your baby just before or during the immunization as a means of comforting him or her.
  • A little distraction can help as well. Be it a favourite book or stuffed animal, or even your gentle, soothing voice: these can all serve as pleasant simple distractions to calm and comfort your baby.

Toddlers (12 months to three years) and younger children (three to nine years)

  • Distraction is a great way to soothe your child and ease his or her anxiety.
  • Blowing bubbles, reading a book, or even just talking can help.
  • Remember that distraction shouldn’t get in the way of your nurse immunizing your child. You might want to consider asking ahead of time what sorts of toys your child could bring to the appointment. This way, the distraction can be right for your child, and also right for the appointment.
  • When your child gets his or her needle, try to remain calm and confident. If you are apologetic, your child could feel that the needle was a bigger deal than it really was.
  • Application of “band-aids” is not generally recommended because they may be painful to remove, and they may be a choking hazard for young children. Reactions to band-aids may also be confused as a reaction to the vaccine.

After immunization

No matter your child’s age, it is normal for him or her to experience some common, mild and temporary symptoms after immunization. 

Here are a few tips to manage these mild symptoms:

  • Fever. If you need medicine for fever or pain, check with your pharmacist or doctor. Follow the instructions on the medicine package carefully. If you are not sure whether your child’s fever is related to the immunization, dial 811 for Health Link or talk to your doctor or pharmacist, before giving your child medicine. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 19 years of age. Aspirin increases the risk of a rare but serious disease called Reye Syndrome. 
  • Swelling or redness around injection point. Put a cool moist cloth on the area for about 10 to 20 minutes. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you need medicine to help relieve the discomfort. Follow the instructions on the medicine package carefully.
  • Fretfulness and poor appetite. Sometimes a baby may be fretful, drowsy and refuse to eat for a few hours after immunization. Plan to relax in a quiet environment at home after immunization. Hold and cuddle your child when needed, and remember to keep the temperature at a comfortable level – your child is more likely to be fretful if he or she gets too warm.
  • Skin rash. Sometimes after your child gets the MMRV vaccine, a mild skin rash may appear. These types of rashes may last several days and will go away without treatment. If there is a chickenpox-like rash (small water blisters), keep it covered with clothing. If the rash can’t be covered, stay away from pregnant women, newborn babies whose mothers haven’t had the chickenpox, and people with weak immune systems. If there are more than 50 spots, call Health Link at 811.
  • Headache. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) may help relieve a headache. Follow the instructions on the medicine package carefully.

Severe allergic reactions after immunization are rare, occurring at an estimated annual rate of only one to ten per one million doses of vaccine administered, and can be treated.. Our nurses will ask that you stay with your child, in the immunization clinic, for at least 15 minutes after your child receives his or her immunizations.  For the dose that your child receives in school, the nurse will also require your child to stay for at least 15 minutes after his or her immunization.  This will allow the nurse to identify and treat any immediate allergic reaction that could occur.

If you are concerned about any symptoms your child is experiencing after immunization, dial 811 for Health Link to speak to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If your child is experiencing severe shortness of breath, call 911.