Vaccine Side Effects: What Pediatricians Want You to Know

Here’s what to expect after your child gets his shots.

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Even with decades of research studies showing that vaccines save lives and protect children from more than a dozen diseases, parents are still—understandably—concerned about vaccine effectiveness and safety. That’s why pediatricians spend a lot of time with parents clearing up these misconceptions about vaccines and their risks.

While natural to be concerned about the medical care your children receive (especially for very young babies), the lifesaving benefits that come with following the recommended vaccine schedule certainly outweigh the very small risks that accompany them. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, out of a million doses of a vaccine that are given, only one to two people may have a severe allergic reaction. “Very serious reactions are so rare, that we can’t even attribute them to the shot,” says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

Looking for more vaccine peace of mind? Ask your pediatrician as many questions as you need to make you feel at ease, and read up on the side effects you can expect after your child’s vaccination. Here’s what pediatricians want you to know about child vaccine side effects.


Common Side Effects of Child Vaccines

The most common side effects are very mild. After your child gets vaccinated, you might notice:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Chills
  • Irritability and crankiness
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Sleepiness

It’s very common for newborns after the two-month and four-month vaccine visit to sleep a lot, says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician who is double-board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine. They’re sleepy because their immune system is working in overdrive to learn the disease, so it’s prepared to fight it in the future. “I tell parents [to] enjoy it,” says Dr. Hes. “You don’t have to wake your baby to feed them. When their body is starting to feel better, they will wake up and start eating well.”


How to Comfort Your Child During and After the Vaccination

You want nothing more than your child to feel safe and comforted during their appointment. Here are some tips to soothe your baby before and after getting vaccinated:

During the vaccination:

  • Ask your doctor if you can hold your child during the vaccination.
  • Bring your child’s favorite things, like a blanket or stuffed animal, to help keep their mind off the shot. (Be sure to ask your doctor if you can use them first.)
  • If your child is older than six months, giving them a sweet drink, like juice, may help soothe them. If your child is breastfed, that may help too.
  • If your child is of age to understand, be honest about what’s happening. Let them know that they may feel a quick pinch, but it will go away fast.
  • Distract them. A funny face or a story can help keep their mind off the task at hand.

After the vaccination: 

  • Your doctor may recommend that you have your child move their arm around after the shot to help with pain and swelling.
  • You can also use a cool, wet cloth to soothe any redness or soreness at the injection site.
  • If your child has a fever, you can bring it down with a cool (not cold) sponge bath.
  • Activities that bring you close to your baby—like swaddling or breastfeeding—can help put them at ease after the shot.

If you’re concerned that your baby is achy or feeling pain after getting vaccinated, your initial reaction may be to give them a pain reliever, but talk to your doctor for their advice.

“When it comes to counseling about giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen, I usually recommend patients to wait and see,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor. “A lot of babies and infants do great after breastfeeding or just going for a walk. So I always say just give it a chance, and see how your child will react to the vaccine.”

Now that you’re prepared for your next appointment, find out when and how often you should go. Here’s look at the vaccine schedule recommended for babies.