Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Pain management in babies

4-minute read

Healthy babies will, at times, experience pain during events that are a normal part of growth and development, including teething pain, blood tests and vaccinations. A baby may also experience pain due to illness or injury. Just like adults, each baby’s reaction to pain is different, but unlike adults, babies can’t tell you how they are feeling, so they rely on you to recognise their pain and help them through it.

How do I know if my baby is in pain?

It can be difficult to know if a baby is in pain since they can’t directly communicate how they are feeling, but there are signs that can help you recognise when they are in pain. For example, if a baby is in pain:

  • they may cry or whimper, and be unable to settle
  • they may be tense, with clenched fists, and may keep their arms and legs close to their chest
  • they may be fidgety, agitated or have an unclear wake/sleep schedule
  • they may be pale, flushed or sweaty
  • they may shut their eyes tightly, furrowing their eyebrows, or have larger than normal pupils

As a parent, you know your child best — if you notice your baby sounds, looks or behaves in an unusual way, and you are worried they may be in pain, seek medical advice. A doctor or baby health clinic can check for other signs that your baby might be unwell, such as an unusual heart rate or blood pressure.

Common pain

In the first year of life, your baby will undergo several procedures. These cause minor pain and distress, but they are very important since they help keep your baby well.

In the first 3 days of your newborn’s life, a small amount of blood will be taken from their heel. This newborn screening test (or 'heel prick test') is done to check for rare but serious conditions. You will also be offered a number of vaccinations, which help prevent some serious contagious diseases.

If your baby is born premature, or with a medical problem, they may also require blood tests, feeding tubes, IV lines or surgery to help them perform all the tasks our bodies do naturally. While these procedures may cause your child some pain in the short term, the aim is to ensure their long-term health and wellbeing.

How can I help my baby in pain?

You are one of the greatest sources of comfort to your baby, and your very presence may have a calming effect.

Some established pain-reducing techniques include:

  • letting your baby hold your finger
  • talking or singing to your baby
  • swaddling your baby in the fetal position
  • breastfeeding
  • nappy changing
  • offering them a dummy
  • tactile soothing (stroking the head and back softly)
  • 'kangaroo care' (skin-to-skin contact between parent and child, both covered by a blanket)
  • holding your baby with both hands (to provide a feeling of security)
  • taking your baby to a dark, quiet space

If your newborn undergoes a painful procedure, their doctor or nurse may suggest you breastfeed or hold your baby skin to skin if possible, or give them sugar (sucrose) solution. These techniques are proven to have a calming and pain-relieving effect on infants.

Video provided by Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation.

When can I give pain medicine?

You can give your child medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen for short-term relief of fever-like symptoms. While they won’t make the cause of the pain go away, they will make your baby feel and sleep better.

  • Paracetamol may be taken from 1 month of age, every 4 to 6 hours in the correct dosage (based on age and weight), but no more than 4 times in 24 hours.
  • Ibuprofen may be taken from 3 months of age, every 6 to 8 hours in the correct dosage (based on age and weight), but no more than 3 times in 24 hours. If your child has a bleeding disorder, do not give them ibuprofen.
  • Never give your newborn aspirin, unless specifically instructed by your doctor.

Where to get help

If your newborn has been taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for 48 hours but is still unwell, seek medical advice.

Ask your pharmacist if you are unsure of the correct dose of medicine for your baby.

If you have given your child too much ibuprofen or paracetamol, call the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) immediately or take them to your nearest hospital emergency department.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

Pain management (acute) - children - Better Health Channel

If you think your child is in pain, always see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Children's medicines and medications | Raising Children Network

When kids are sick, you want to help them feel better. But it can be hard to know whether children’s medicine and medications will help. Our guide explains.

Read more on website

Helping kids with medical procedures

You play an important role in your child's medical procedure, by explaining why the procedure is needed, distracting them during it and talking them through the recovery.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

ANZCA | Pain relief and having a baby

Labour is among the most painful human experiences.

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website

Control of Pain in Children (Paediatric Pain Management) | HealthEngine Blog

Paediatric Pain Management: Paediatric Pain Management is the Control of Pain in Children.  Pain can be associated with numerous paediatric diseases and conditions and the patient may require Paediatric Pain Management.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Making your child's test or procedure less stressful - InsideRadiology

InsideRadiology provides free and easily accessible, accurate, up to date and credible information about medical imaging tests and procedures.

Read more on InsideRadiology website

Opioid (pain reliever) infusion | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

When children have strong pain due to surgery, injury or illness, they need constant pain relief

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Medicines for your child

Here is some practical and reliable advice about giving your sick infant or child medicine, including what is the right dosage and possible side effects.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Community Child Health Program | WA Health

Community child health nurses support all families with young children. We provide a range of important free services to support families to raise happy, healthy children. We offer health and development assessments and screening, immunisation advice and support to families with young children.

Read more on WA Health website

Managing JIA — Arthritis Australia

Early diagnosis and active, long-term management provides the best chance for a positive outcome for your child

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.