One of the best ways to protect your baby against diseases like measles, rubella, tetanus and meningitis is through immunisation. Your baby needs their first injections at eight weeks, then 12 weeks, 16 weeks and one year.
This guide for parents and carers aims to help you prepare for and feel confident at your baby’s immunisation appointments.
Vaccination and immunisation – what does it mean?
Vaccination is getting a vaccine — having the injection or taking an oral vaccine dose.
Immunisation is the process of both getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the disease following vaccination.
Vaccines take time to work, because the immune system needs time to produce an immune response to the vaccine.
Some vaccines work after one dose, but others need more doses to be effective, and for some you need a ‘booster’ later, to restore your immunity to disease, which can lessen over time.
When to make the appointments
Your GP surgery should contact you about your baby’s first vaccination appointment when your baby is around 5-6 weeks old. This could be by letter, text, phone call or email. You need to make the first appointment for when your baby is 8 weeks old. The next appointments are needed when your baby is 12 weeks, 16 weeks and one year old. You can see the full schedule here.
You do not need to wait to hear from the GP to make the appointment. If you have questions you want to ask a doctor or nurse about the immunisations before they happen, you can make an earlier appointment to do that.
Your baby can still have their vaccinations if:
- they have a minor illness without a high temperature – such as a cold
- they have allergies, asthma, eczema or food intolerances
- they were born prematurely
What happens at the appointments
Vaccination appointments take around 10 to 15 minutes. You will need to bring your baby’s red book with you. Dress your baby in clothes that are easy to remove – babies under 12 months have injections in the thigh. Dress toddlers and older children in loose or short sleeves – they’ll have their injections in the upper arm.
Vaccines are usually given by the practice nurse. The nurse will explain the process, any potential side effects and what to do if they happen. You can ask as many questions as you want, and you then decide if you want the vaccination to go ahead.
The nurse will carry out several checks before giving the vaccine to make sure that everything is correct. Afterwards, the nurse will record the vaccination in your baby’s red book and on their medical record.
How to make appointments go smoothly: babies aged 0 – 6 months
Time of day
If possible, try to avoid making the appointment at a time when your baby could be getting tired and grizzly.
Between 2 and 6 months a cradled position can be most comfortable for your baby during the vaccination.
Your baby may prefer to face in one direction over the other. If your clothing is appropriate, a hold which allows skin-to-skin contact can be very reassuring for your baby.
If you are breastfeeding, you can feed your baby while the nurse is giving the vaccine. Breastfeeding releases positive hormones and is calming for babies. If your baby is bottle fed, you could give them a dummy, along with a cuddle to help calm both you and your baby.
Just before and during the injection, it can be helpful for you to chat to the nurse about something other than the vaccination. The sound of your voice will help to calm and reassure your baby.
After the injection, you can gently stroke near the injection site for approximately 10 seconds to provide comfort and distract from any sensations of pain.
How to make appointments go smoothly: babies aged 6 months to 1 year
Most of the tips above will work well for slightly older babies, with a couple of changes.
If not being breastfed, hold your baby cuddled upright facing their preferred direction. This has been shown to reduce the reaction to pain in an older baby. It may be comforting to bring a favourite soft toy or blanket which smells reassuring.
Older babies are more aware of their surroundings. Disctraction reduces the activity in the part of the brain that deals with pain. You might want to bring in an interesting toy to move around and hold your baby’s interest.
Time of day
Try to avoid arranging appointments just before or during their normal nap time.
How to make appointments go smoothly: children over 1 year old
From ages 1 to 3 some other tips may be helpful.
Move the cuddle to a seated position on the lap. By now sitting upright makes children feel more secure and in control. If you’re worried about seeing injections yourself, you could ask a nurse or another member of staff to hold your child for you.
At this age distraction needs to be more engaging. Your child may want to watch something on a tablet or phone.
You can bring in a favourite snack or treat for your child to have straight after the injection.
Preparing your child
If your older child is worried about getting an injection, it may be helpful to watch this short video together a day or two beforehand and then talk about it:
You and your child could role-play visiting the doctor and giving a pretend vaccine to teddies or dolls before you go. It can also be helpful to put the focus of the outing on a treat or something fun that you will do together afterwards.
Appointment reminders and support
Your GP should contact you each time a vaccination appointment is due. Make sure that your GP always has your up-to-date contact details – including your mobile phone number, email and address. You can also get information and reminders about your baby’s vaccines from other sources.
Start 4 life
You can subscribe to receive weekly emails from NHS Start4Life which have lots of helpful tips about looking after your new baby and yourself, including reminders to make vaccination appointments which will land in your inbox the week before each set of vaccines is due.
Baby buddy app
The free Baby Buddy app was developed by UK charity Best Beginnings with parents, healthcare professionals and partner charities.
Whether you’re a mum, dad, co-parent or caregiver, Baby Buddy empowers you to feel confident, giving you the knowledge and practical skills to look after yourself and give your child the best start. It will remind you when your baby’s vaccines are due.
The app includes:
- advice and information every day throughout pregnancy and the first year of your baby’s life.
- a digital personal child health record where you can record growth, vaccinations and developmental milestones.
What to expect after the appointment
See information in the NHS vaccinations tips for parents about what expect after vaccination.