Babies of first-time mums express more pain during routine vaccinations than those of experienced mothers, according to new research.
The Durham University study suggests that first-time mothers’ anxiety about the procedure has an effect on their babies.
The researchers say babies’ early experience of pain shapes their response to painful events later in life so reduction of anxiety in both mother and baby is important.
The findings could also have implications for the number of children with incomplete immunisations and could therefore impose health risks to the child and society.
In the preliminary study, 50 mothers and their two-month old babies were videotaped during their routine vaccinations. Maternal touch and pain expression of the babies were analysed before, during and after the injections. After the procedure, mothers were asked to estimate their baby’s level of pain with most overestimating the extent of their baby’s pain.
The study is published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology.
Contrary to findings from previous studies, results from this research showed that the mental health status of the mothers or the type of touch between mother and baby did not influence the level of pain shown by the child.
Lead researcher, Nadja Reissland, Department of Psychology , said: "Most mothers tend to feel a bit apprehensive about taking their baby to their first immunisations but for first-time mums it is a bit more daunting. These results show that a mother’s anxiety and distress is somehow ’felt’ by the baby who in turn shows more pain.
"It is possible that first-time mothers get more stressed about taking their baby for their immunisations due to the unfamiliarity of the process, and how much pain they believe their babies are in could stop them from taking their babies for follow up vaccinations. This could result in children having incomplete immunisations.
"It is important that first-time mothers feel reasonably comfortable about the experience to reduce theirs and their babies’ anxiety."
The current immunisation schedule in the UK requires babies to receive their first vaccinations at two months of age.
David Elliman, Immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: "Vaccinating children is extremely important in order to protect them from infectious diseases.
"It’s extremely common for children to become nervous just before doctors carry out these vaccinations, so the mothers’ behaviour during this time is very important in reducing the pain felt by their baby when being immunised - something this study emphasises."
Pain observed in all babies increased progressively during the vaccination process, with more pain in response to the first injection, a lull after that and a further increase in pain with the second injection.
Babies of first-time mothers showed more pain in anticipation of the injections than those of experienced mothers with pain reaching similar levels as that of babies of experienced mothers.