Preparing for Blood Work for a Toddler

Visiting a blood lab with a toddler is not easy. Our experience and tips below!

This past week, we had to get some bloodwork done for our little C. There was a part of me that was more worried about the actual process of taking three vials of blood out of the tiny veins of a 21 month old than I was concerned about what the results would be. Though, that was only part of me. The rest of me went down deep dark internet rabbit holes for hours each night on google. I’d suggest not doing that. 

In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the blood lab with him. I know, I know. Not a great mom moment for me. But what my baby needed for someone confident, calm and focused in that process – that would be best for him. And that, my friends, was not me. Not this time, at least. So, my husband took the lead here. My hubby is a wonderful, comforting, calm, loving father and I knew he would both prepare and nail the whole thing better than I could handle it. 

In figuring out the best preparation for a under two-year-old to get bloodwork done – here is the run down:

1. Choose the Best Adult, Not the Default One 

Whoever is going to accompany your child (mom, dad, grandma, auntie, etc.) should be the person who can be most *calm* and comforting your child at that moment. If you are going to be crying or shaky because of your own fears, consider if there is someone else in your immediate world who should either accompany you both, or should take your child on their own. 

2. Limit the Party

If you have multiple children, it is best to find some childcare for the other kiddos if you can. Being able to concentrate solely on your child who will be doing this big scary thing called ‘blood work’ is critical. You want to be able to stay calm, focused, and in the moment with them as much as possible. 

3. Go to a Pediatric-focused Lab

I started having doubts in the wee-hours of the morning about going to the bloodlab attached to our pediatricians office. I know they see tons of kids there (they see everyone), but the majority of patients at that lab are adults. I have been there – what feels like- a million times for my own blood work during each pregnancy, and walk past the waiting room for every single doctor’s appointment for the kids. 

The truth is, we are a hop-skip-and-jump from Stanford Children’s Hospital. Their blood lab focuses on kids and would likely be the better place to go. Unfortunately, we couldn’t due to time restraints at the moment. I had a small panic attack as my husband left with my son over this decision. In the end, all was well and the nurse had plenty of experience with children. 

I’d highly, highly recommend doing your research ahead of time and choosing a lab that focuses on pediatric patients if that is possible. 

4. Fill Them Up

The day of their blood work, let them drink a ton of fluids! Milk, water, popsicle, watermelons — whatever liquids you can get in them to ensure their veins are easier to find. The more hydrated, the better! Pump up those veins! 

5. Talk About it (to some degree)

If your child is old enough, talk about the blood work in the car on the way to the appointment. My husband did this with our 21-month-old. Even though C didn’t understand much, he did understand ‘doctor’ and wasn’t surprised when they arrived at the medical building he was familiar with.  Do not mention any scary medical words! Keep it light. The older your child, the more you might be able to explain. You’ll likely still want to shy away from oversharing and anchoring them towards certain fears or feelings of pain ahead of time. 

6. Wear Sleeves

A long sleeve or short sleeve shirt is great as long as the fabric goes down their arm enough to cover where the tourniquet will wrap around your child’s arm. This will help from having an extra uncomfort on their skin (a tourniquet can pinch!. For long sleeves, ensure that they are then loose enough to pull up comfortably above the elbow. 

7. Bring Activities For The Waiting Room

If you aren’t sure you are headed somewhere that has entertainment for kids in the lobby, bring some favorites. A book, a toy, stickers, a game… Whatever will keep them happy and entertained while you wait. The more distracted and comfortable they are through the whole event, the better. 

8. Role Play

Plan to sit on the chair with your little one, if that is the process allowed by the lab. My husband asked for a tourniquet to be placed on his arm first to show C what was going to happen, he rolled up his sleeves too! C was very interested in also having what daddy had on his arm. Any additional comforts you can provide, like being on a familiar lap and “playing along” together – the better. 

9. Plan on Some Screen Time

Distracting your child during the procedure can help a lot. My hubby had “Room on the Broom” (C’s most favorite little movie in the whole wide world) downloaded on his phone ahead of time (key: download just in case there is no service!). He started playing it right before the needle “event”, and C was distracted right up until the small pinch! Then couldn’t decided between watching his beloved witch on a broom or what the heck was happening with his arm. The choice alone was distracting enough. 

10. Offer Something to Look Forward to Afterward

Is it ice cream? A few M&Ms, stickers, a small toy, or a visit to the playground? Whatever it is that can brighten up your child’s day – plan on it. A few stickers from the nurse was enough to make C happy after his bloodwork, and he walked around feeling proud of himself for hours holding onto them. A small reward is big enough. 

11. Let Your Child Cry

Having fear, anxiety or pain – it’s all normal. Let your child feel their feelings. Reassure them it will be quick and will no longer hurt afterwards. Offer them comfort – don’t insist they be a “big boy” or “big girl” or whatever else you might say to encourage them to hold back their feelings. Just let them feel and offer your comfort and understanding.