Helping infants cope with tests and treatment (birth to 12 months)

The best way to help infants (birth to 12 months) cope is to be there with them and care for them. They feel scared when they are separated from their parents. Babies can be upset just from being in the hospital or away from home because it’s different and there are many strangers around. If they cry during a test, it may be because of this rather than from pain. Their best comfort is you.

It’s hard to prepare babies for tests or treatments because they can’t talk or understand explanations. The healthcare team will do all they can to make sure your child is safe and comfortable. This may include using medicines to calm your child and reduce pain. Pain from a test or treatment usually ends when the procedure ends. The healthcare team will watch for any problems and will use different machines to monitor your child’s body functions (such as heart rate and breathing). In some cases, they may need to restrain a child, but this shouldn’t last very long.

To help your baby cope you can:

  • Stay with your baby during a test or treatment. You know your child best, so you can tell the healthcare team if you see signs of fear, discomfort or pain.
  • If you can’t be in the room, ask if it’s OK to leave your baby a shirt with your smell on it.
  • Wake your child before a painful procedure. Although you can’t explain procedures to your infant, they should always feel that nothing bad will happen to them while they are asleep.
  • Make your baby’s crib or bed in the hospital a safe zone. Ask that any tests or treatment be done in a treatment room and not in the child’s room.
  • Limit the number of people and voices in the room during the test or treatment. If possible, have your child meet the person who will do the test ahead of time.
  • Limit the number of visitors if your child is staying in the hospital.
  • Soothe and comfort your child by holding, touching, rocking, playing music or singing to them. Cuddle and hug your baby often.
  • Give your child whatever makes them feel secure, such as a pacifier, blanket or favourite stuffed animal.
  • Distract your baby with colourful objects or toys. Talk and play games, like peek-a-boo, as you would at home.
  • Try to keep as normal a schedule as possible, including for naps, meals and play. If staying in the hospital, continue or develop routines for feeding, bedtime and bath time.
  • If you have to be away from your baby, use video or phone to stay in contact. Record lullabies, stories or messages for your child.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Children Diagnosed with Cancer: Dealing with Diagnosis. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2012.
  • CancerNet. Preparing Your Child for Medical Procedures. American Society of Clinical Oncology; 2011.
  • Kline, N. E . Patient and Familiy Education. Kline, N. E. (Ed.). Essentials of Pediatric Oncology Nursing: A Core Curriculum. 2nd ed. Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses; 2004: VIII: 230-238.
  • National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group. Family Handbook for Children with Cancer (Curesearch). 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD: 2012.
  • U. S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health . Infant test/procedure preparation. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2011.
  • WebMD. Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests - Preparing Your Child for a Medical Test. Healthwise, Incorporated;
  • Wilson, K . Supportive Care. Kline, N. E. (Ed.). Essentials of Pediatric Oncology Nursing: A Core Curriculum. 2nd ed. Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses; 2004: VI: 170-190.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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