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Pain management in babies

7-minute read

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.

Key Facts

  • Your baby can’t tell you when they are in pain, so it’s a good idea be aware of the signs.
  • In the first year of life, your baby will have vaccinations and may undergo procedures like blood tests that cause minor pain and distress, but they are very important since they help keep your baby well.
  • There are many ways to help reduce your baby’s pain including talking or singing to your baby, breastfeeding, swaddling and taking your baby to a dark, quiet room.
  • Medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used for temporary relief of pain and discomfort.
  • Any baby or young child who is unwell or in moderate to severe pain should see a doctor to find the source of the pain.

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 disturbed 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.

Pain during procedures

In the first year of life, your baby will undergo several medical 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 prematurely, or with a medical problem, they may also require blood tests, feeding tubes, intravenous (IV) lines, surgery or other medical procedures. 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 just being close to them may have a calming effect.

Some good pain reducing techniques include:

Other pain reducing techniques involve touching or holding your baby in a certain way. Useful techniques include:

  • tactile soothing (stroking your baby’s head and back softly)
  • 'kangaroo care' (skin-to-skin contact between you and your child, where you are both covered by a blanket)
  • holding your baby with both hands (to provide a feeling of security)
  • letting your baby hold your finger

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 a sugar (sucrose) solution. These techniques are proven to have a calming and pain relieving effect on infants.

Video provided by Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation (SKAI)

When can I give my child medicine for pain-relief?

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

  • Paracetamol may be given 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 given 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 child aspirin, unless specifically instructed by your doctor.

It’s important to make sure that you give your child the correct dose of pain medicines for the shortest period possible. Read the instructions on the pack carefully, as the amount your baby needs will be specific to your baby’s age and weight, and the strength of the formulation you buy. Giving your child too much medicine or giving it too frequently could be harmful.

Where can I get help?

Any baby or young child who is unwell or in moderate to severe pain should see a doctor to determine the source of the pain.

Do not give your baby or child paracetamol or ibuprofen for more than 48 hours without seeing a doctor.

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

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: November 2022

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