New mothers could pass on their fears about vaccinations to their children, a study has suggested.
Babies of first-time mothers express more pain during routine vaccinations than those of experienced mothers, according to the research.
Heightened levels of pain could come as a result of the mother's anxiety about the procedure, researchers suggest.
The preliminary study examined 50 mothers and their two-month-old babies during routine vaccinations. Researchers analysed the pain expression of the babies before, during and after the injections.
Infants of first-time mothers showed significantly more pain before the needle insertion as well as during the first vaccination, compared with children of experienced mothers. After the procedure, mothers were asked to estimate the level of pain felt by their baby. The results, published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, suggest that new and experienced mothers alike overestimated their child's pain.
Lead researcher Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University's Department of Psychology, said: "Most mothers tend to feel a bit apprehensive about taking their baby to their first immunisations but for first-time mums it is a bit more daunting. These results show that a mother's anxiety and distress is somehow 'felt' by the baby, who in turn shows more pain.
"It is possible that first-time mothers get more stressed about taking their baby for their immunisations due to the unfamiliarity of the process, and how much pain they believe their babies are in could stop them from taking their babies for follow-up vaccinations. This could result in children having incomplete immunisations.
"It is important that first-time mothers feel reasonably comfortable about the experience to reduce theirs and their babies' anxiety."
Dr David Elliman, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, added: "Vaccinating children is extremely important in order to protect them from infectious diseases.
"It's extremely common for children to become nervous just before doctors carry out these vaccinations, so the mother's behaviour during this time is very important in reducing the pain felt by their baby when being immunised - something this study emphasises."