Blood draws stink. They just do. But the good news is, there are lots of things you can do to make them more palatable for your little one. Don’t go to your child’s next blood draw without reading these top ten tips to ease the experience.
1. Do everything you can to make your first blood draws go well. Your child will remember those first draws, and it will make all future blood draws much more of a struggle if they have been traumatized early on. If you have a history of bad draws, now is the time to use the additional tips below to push reset and set the stage for smoother sailing.
2. Prepare your child for what’s coming. Don’t wait for a blood draw to start talking about them. Talk with your child throughout the year about what a blood draw is and isn’t. Buy a pretend doctor’s kit (HERE) and go through what will happen at the blood draw, and familiarize them with the instruments used. Let them role play with you and on a doll. Take turns being the doctor and the patient. Let them use play to process what will happen and express concerns they have. Let them watch you get your blood drawn next time you have to go, and narrate the experience for them. Show them that you’re okay even though it hurt.Reading or watching social stories online can help, too. Social stories are step by step guides that illustrate an experience, and familiarize the child with each step in a process or event. They use pictures, words and videos to present a concept in a more appealing and visual story format. Check out this catalog of social stories from One Place for Special Needs by clicking HERE, and their blood draw specific social story HERE.
3. Drink lots of water in the 24 hours prior. Guzzle fluids a day in advance of a blood draw, and especially right before the actual draw. Lots of liquid will dilate the veins and make them easier to poke. A bigger target makes for an easier draw.
4. Be honest. Do tell your child that you’re going to the doctor for a blood draw. And do tell your child that it will hurt some. Blind siding them will only teach them they can’t trust you, and to fear the unknown. That said, don’t tell them a week or a month out so they can be paralyzed with fear and worry far longer than they need to. We tell our little boy the morning of, about an hour out. We don’t dwell on it. We don’t make it sound like the end of the world. We tell him that in a little while we are going to the doctor and they’re going to poke his arm, because the doctor needs to look at the blood that comes out, to make sure he is healthy. We tell him it will hurt for a little bit, but then it will be over. And mommy and daddy will be there with him the whole time and he’ll get to watch his favorite movie while we’re there. And we tell him that after we’re all done we will get in the car and have a treat and we can snuggle and do something he loves. Focus on the positive.
Note: If your child goes into auto-freak out mode at just the announcement of a blood draw, chances are you’ve had some rough blood draws in the past. If you can focus on re-writing that memory by using these steps, you’re far less likely to incite panic.
5. Get a prescription for Emla cream, and use it. Emla is lidocaine, a numbing agent, and can take the pain of the poke out of the blood draw experience. Spread a small dab on both arm poke sites (do both arms in case one side offers a more juicy vein option than the other) 30 minutes before your blood draw, and cover with a long sleeve shirt to avoid contact with eyes or mouth via busy little hands. Do not use Emla on broken skin. If you will have regular blood draws over the years, and Emla is not contraindicated, this step alone has the power to transform your blood draws from catastrophic, to doable. This is a cream routinely used by most children’s hospitals for the very purpose of making blood draws nicer for kids.
6. Wear a long sleeve shirt that can be rolled up. This is key. Put your child in a thicker shirt that can be rolled over three times in a large cuff just above the poke site. This provides padding for the elastic band that is used to help encourage available veins to the surface. On raw skin, especially soft kid/baby skin, this band can really pinch and get your child crying and fighting before the real work of the blood draw has even begun. Beware the pinch of the elastic band!
7. Get the very best nurse or phlebotomist to do the blood draw. Having someone who is amazing with a needle can make or break your draw. We’ve all had experiences with blood draws where we felt like a pin cushion and they just couldn’t hit the vein, and others where we literally didn’t even feel the needle go in. It goes without saying, you want the latter. We schedule our draws with one specific nurse at one specific clinic. We won’t let anyone else draw our little boy’s blood. Because it only takes one pin cushion experience to ruin all the rest going forward. Ask around. Who has a good reputation? If you have to call in a NICU nurse or a Life Flight medic, do it. If you have to go to a chemo clinic, or drive a little ways, it’s worth it. Don’t be shy about asking if they feel confident they can get the vein on the first poke, and if not, if you can respectfully ask for someone else, in the interest of the visit not being traumatic. If they want to be offended, they can be. Your only obligation is to your child.
8. Distraction is your best friend. You’re apt to have fewer tears if you bring something to keep your child’s mind off of fear and pain. And your best bet in terms of captivation potential, is to bring a tablet with your child’s favorite movie on it (and better yet, don’t let them watch this particular movie for several weeks in advance of the draw to make the movie especially captivating). Turn the movie on before you help your child onto the exam table and the nurse begins prepping his arm. Show home movies on your phone if you don’t have a larger screened tablet. Or find a movie clip they love on YouTube to show on your phone (you’ll need an internet connection for YouTube). Fast forward the movie to an engaging scene, and one that will last several minutes through the draw. Keep the child’s focus on the movie. Re-direct their attention back to the screen and away from their arm.
9. Bring a security item from home. If your child had a favorite blanket or stuffed animal they love, a binky, or any kind of security object, bring it. This will arm them with a tool to self soothe in a new and scary environment, and also when they feel pain. A familiar item from home can be very comforting to a child. We drape our little boy’s blanket around his neck and hand so he can feel it against him for reassurance.
10. Do what you have to do. If the nurse doing the draw seems inexperienced, ask for another. If things are moving too quickly and it’s making your child unsettled, ask them to slow it down. If you need a minute to talk to your child or reassure him, take it. If you want the blood draw sitting up while you hold your child rather than lying down (lying down feels very vulnerable to a child so I highly recommend sitting up), do it. If you need another minute to cue up your distracting movie clip, tell them to wait. It’s your child. You call the shots.
Bonus Tip: Keep your cool. Blood draws can be traumatic for parents, too. But remember that children can read your emotion. They will look to you for cues on how they should be feeling. If you look panicked and scared, or are bawling your eyes out on their behalf, you can expect that and more from your child. A freak out starts with you. Leave the room for the draw if you can’t hold it together. Speak calmly and reassuringly. Help them identify and manage their emotions, and give them words to express what they may not be able to.
Blood draws can go well. You can do it. ©
Other helpful products for blood draws and pokes (also available under the Amazon Store tab at the top of the page, then select Medical):
Looking for toys and tools to encourage your child’s development? Check out The Simply Perfect Amazon Store: