A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down

By • Published: August 27th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Anyone who has tasted a dose of yucky cough syrup will have a hard time believing Mary Poppins’ claim that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

New research, however, indicates that a sweet treat just may help take the “ouch” out of shots for babies.

That’s because natural, pain-reducing chemicals are released when an infant ingests sugar. This chemical boost can help temporarily reduce the physical discomfort a baby feels from the pinch of a needle.

Scientists analyzed fourteen studies of infants up to one year of age who were given sugar water, plain water or nothing before receiving routine shots. The study covered close to seventeen-hundred immunizations.

More than ninety percent of the time, babies given sugar water cried less than infants who received plain water or who were given nothing at all.

The type of sugar also seemed to make a difference. Babies given glucose — a natural sugar made by the body — cried less than infants given a solution that contained common table sugar.

Giving sugar water before a shot is well-studied in newborns, and the tasty trick has been used by clinicians in neonatal intensive care units and other hospital settings for quite some time. But it isn’t commonly used in doctors’ offices or clinics where most childhood shots are given.

Perhaps eventually that will change and giving a dose of sugar before an injection will join the other comfort measures currently used, such as offering a pacifier, breastfeeding or distracting baby with a toy.

Health experts hope reducing the tears and fears associated with shots may increase the number of childhood immunizations. And a spoonful of sugar could help make going to the doctor a sweeter experience for you and baby.