Vaccinating Infants, Babies, and Young Children: Strategies for Safer Immunization

With the rise of vaccination in the public imagination, there's more talk than ever about vaccines, safety, risk, and public health benefits. The topic of vaccination is both in your feeds and on your minds. Yet, evidence-based information about how to prepare your baby or child for vaccination is practically impossible to find. Google anything about vaccines or vaccinating your baby and prepare yourself to find a mind-boggling matrix of contradictory claims. Yes, folks, the conversation about vaccination has become so polarized that most of you, especially those anxious about your baby's 8-week vaccines, can't find the information you need to make informed decisions. These decisions are more timely than ever with the pediatric Covid vaccine for 6 month to 5 year olds about to become available any day now. And remember, decisions about immunizing your kid happen from birth (with the Hepatitis B vaccine) and continue deep into their teens years. This topic doesn't go away, so it’s best to be prepared.

Do I Need To Prepare My Child For Vaccines?

The answer is yes. Thinking that every body is ready for a vaccine at every moment of every day doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? I mean, let's think this through together. Is your adult body always at its strongest? Is your adult body, with its fully-developed immune system, at its best to fight-off viruses and bacteria at every moment of every day? Of course not! Bodies of all ages, and especially those who just emerged into the world, need support to be ready to encounter pathogens. 

Sometimes you haven’t slept well, and other days, you’ve not been eating enough, or drinking much water. Some days you’re constipated or are just not feeling your best. The same logic applies to our babies and young children. In short, your newborn baby, infant, or young child needs to be prepared to receive the benefits of immunizations with the fewest possible side effects.

Why Do I Need To Prepare My Child For Their Immunizations?

Most babies and young children in the U.S. receive vaccinations and they seem fine. Why would I need to spend time and my limited energy preparing my baby for their vaccinations? I thought vaccinations were safe. Are you saying they are not safe?

Let’s slow-down and break it down, together.

#1) Our Immune Systems Are Not Fully Developed Until Age 7 or 8

You likely know that newborn immune systems are underdeveloped. In fact, this is the main reason we vaccinate our children – to protect them from serious (even life-threatening) illness. This being the case, why do we need to prepare our babies and young children for something that protects them? Very good question!

Vaccines are designed to create a subclinical level of inflammation. What does this mean? It means vaccines force the body to produce antibodies against a particular disease or group of diseases.  That way, if your child is exposed to that disease down the line, their body will know how to fight it effectively. This would result in either a much milder case, or no symptoms at all. Vaccines signal your child’s immune system to go into high-gear in order to create those antibodies, and as a result, many experience side effects like body aches, low to moderate fever, fatigue, etc. 

However, because infants, babies, and young children have underdeveloped immune systems, vaccines can sometimes cause an unmediated immune response that in East Asian Medicine we call “Latent Heat”. 

#2) To Prevent The Development Of “Latent Heat”

Your body has multiple layers of defense to protect itself. In East Asian Medicine, these layers have many names and sources, including “Wei Qi, Ying Qi, Zong Qi, Lung Qi, Yuan Qi, Jing (Essence), etc.” However, in the case of vaccination, the layers of preliminary protection are bypassed by the vaccine being injected directly into the bloodstream (or the “Blood Level”). Think of your body as an onion – instead of the pathogen encountering the skin of your onion and being fought off on a more superficial level, it bypasses all the layers going directly to the core of the onion.

“Latent heat” is a phenomenon described in East Asian Medicine that helps us understand the amorphous symptoms that can occur weeks or even months after vaccination – seemingly, to many parents, bearing no origin. “Latent Heat” occurs most commonly in childhood, elderhood, and in situations of chronic overwork or chronic stress, and also following pediatric vaccination. 

In situations of “Latent Heat”, there is exhaustion or a personality change followed by a chronic joint pain, digestive distress, behavioral challenges, or overall, generalized fatigue. “Latent Heat” can also manifest as being sick frequently, including fevers and chills and digestive complaints – for months or longer after receiving vaccination. “Latent Heat” can contribute to the manifestation of auto-immune diseases, as well, in children with a family history.

How Can I Prepare My Baby Or Child For Vaccines?

First, you need to take a look at your child’s health history. Was your newborn premature? Did they have a NICU stay or are they experiencing a chronic health condition? Or is your young child generally healthy and sees their pediatrician mainly for well-visits? Understanding your child’s overall health, including how robust they are, is a first-step to evaluating the extent of preparation that is appropriate for your newborn, infant, or young one.

Second, even with the healthiest of children, every body has areas that are stronger and areas that need more support. Here, you need to look at your child's various body systems and how they are functioning, such as:

  1. Bowel movements: (Note: what is considered "normal" varies wildly, depending upon their age). But for an 18 month old and older: are they regular? Daily? Formed and easy to pass? If not, focus on regulating your child’s bowels.
  2. Digestion: Is your baby experiencing colic? Bloating, indigestion, or gas? Food allergies? These are so common, and can indicate a low-level of inflammation that ought to be resolved prior to immunization.
  3. Hydration/Urination: If at least 50% of your child’s nutrition is coming from solid food, are they receiving enough fluids from both bodymilk and water? Are they urinating enough, and in proportion to their intake? And does their urine have a strong smell or is it mild? 100% bodyfed kids are, most of the time, well-hydrated, but still make sure their urine output is normal.
  4. Nervous System regulation: Does your newborn or infant cry for more than half the day? Are they fussy to the point of not being able to be comforted? Or does your toddler or child show signs of anxiety or have a really hard time with transitions? In states of nervous system arousal, the body is less able to mediate inflammatory responses, including in response to vaccines. Supporting your child's nervous system regulation is key to reducing the risk of "Latent Heat."

Addressing the above common childhood concerns are crucial prior to vaccinating your child. All the pathways of elimination like bowel movements, digestion, and urination need to be working well in order to avoid conditions like “Latent Heat”. And, both East Asian and Western Medicine acknowledge that nervous system dysregulation and chronic inflammation go hand-in-hand. As such, to prepare our babies and children for vaccination, we need to not only correct the imbalances discussed above, but also support nervous system regulation before, after, and crucially, during the immunization appointment.

Is Breastfeeding or Bodyfeeding My Baby During Vaccination Enough?

It is a good start, for sure! There is a lot of wisdom in this practice and for those who can bodyfeed, or even suckle their little one during the vaccine appointment, do so! If your little one isn’t bodyfeeding, there is evidence to suggest that consuming a sweet-tasting treat (like a lollipop – get one that’s made with stevia, monk fruit, or another non-glycemic sweetener) can decrease pain sensation during the administration of vaccines.

In East Asian Medicine, we know that the development of “Latent Heat” conditions can occur when there is a significant, traumatic event that impacts the nervous system or “shen” – the Heart spirit, in East Asian Medicine. As such, it is very, very important to find ways to soothe and calm yourself as well as your child during the beginning, middle, and end of the immunization appointment.

How Can I Do All Of This? How Can I Learn More?

You can learn the ins-and-outs of how to prepare for your child’s vaccination appointments – including assessing and addressing imbalances, the benefits and drawbacks of a slower vaccine schedule, how to soothe your child’s nervous system before, during, and after; and, what side effects are normal and when to seek medical attention. You can also have access to a pediatric East Asian Medicine practitioner for questions along the way. Vax Ready is here to help.



References:

Pediatric Vaccines Support Strategies in Chinese Medicine: A Panel discussion with
David Miller, MD, L.Ac. & Moshe Heller, L.Ac.. 3/24/2021.

Simon AK, Hollander GA, McMichael A. Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age. Proc Biol Sci. 2015;282(1821):20143085. doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.3085

Maciocia, Giovanni. Latent Heat in Chinese Medicine. https://giovanni-maciocia.com/latent-hea/.

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