Subcutaneous Injections: Injecting At Home

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What are subcutaneous (SC) injections?

A SC injection is a medicine that is injected into the fatty layer just below the skin. This is called the subcutaneous layer. It is just above the muscle.

Getting your child to take needles

Children take their cues from their parents. Any fear or dislike you have of needles may make your child afraid too. Some parents find that reminding themselves that the injection allows their child to survive and stay healthy makes injection time easier. For example, if parents say, “I need to give your injection so you will have lots of energy to play and to grow,” the child begins to understand. Follow up each needle with a big hug and kiss, and get on with the day’s activities.

Who should give the injection?

In many families, one person takes on most of the responsibilities for injections. However, there may be problems when that person is not there. It is important for all regular caregivers to share the responsibility of giving the injection. Your child should feel safe and confident with any of them. Single-parent families should get the help of a friend or relative. Some families work out a schedule. One parent might take care of the morning injections and the other parent looks after evening injections.

Sharing the burden is also important to cope with the daily demands of your child’s condition and to prevent parent burnout.

Thigh Injection Site
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Injection sites and needle sizes

The injection site depends on the age of your child. The diameter of the needles also varies depending on your child’s age. This size is described in units called ‘gauge numbers’. Needles with larger diameters have smaller gauge numbers. Even though these needles are larger, the injection is quicker and less painful for your child.

The needle should be 16mm in length. You might be given a shorter needle for specific drugs. Check with your heath care provider to ensure you have the right length needle.

The gauge of the needle is ________.
Your child’s injection site is _______.

Birth to 12 months

For newborns and infants, inject medicine into the middle of the thigh where there is a lot of fatty tissue .This is called the anterolateral thigh muscle. Use the front, outer top of the thigh. Do not use the inner thigh or back of the thigh.

Triceps Injection Site
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12 months and older

For children older than 12 months, medicines can be injected into two sites.

  • Middle of the thigh. Inject medicine into the middle of the thigh where there is a lot of fatty tissue.This is called the anterolateral thigh muscle. Use the front, outer top of the thigh. Do not use the inner thigh or back of the thigh
  • Back of the arm. This is the fatty tissue over the back part of the upper arm

Points to keep in mind:

  • Change sites with each injection.
  • Separate each injection by at least one inch.
  • Avoid areas that are bruised, scarred from injuries, swollen or tender.

Preparing the medicine

You will need:

  • a vial of medicine
  • ___ ml syringe with a ___ mm needle
  • a cotton ball
  • a container to throw away needles. This can be a thick, plastic bottle or a sharps container with a lid.

Check the date on the medicine bottle to make sure it has not expired.

Giving a SC injection

  1. Choose the injection spot. Clean the skin with soap and water (do not need to use an alcohol swab) and pat dry. Try to change injection sites with each injection you give. For example, inject into the left thigh in the morning and right thigh at night.
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  1. Pinch up on the fatty (subcutaneous) tissue to prevent injection into muscle.
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  1. Insert needle at a 45º angle to the skin. You do not need to pull back on the syringe plunger after inserting the needle (aspirate).
  2. Give the drug rapidly to reduce pain. Firmly push the plunger down as far as it will go.
  3. Pull the needle out gently at the same angle you put it in. As you take out the needle, let go of the skin roll.
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  1. Apply firm pressure with a cotton ball to the injection site for 30 seconds following each injection to reduce the chance of bruising. Do not rub the area as it may irritate the skin.
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  1. Put the needle and syringe in a thick, plastic bottle or sharps container with a lid. Do not try to put the cap back on the needle. This is for safety. When the container is full, bring it to your local pharmacy. They can safely dispose of it for you. Do not put it in your regular garbage.

What does it mean if there is bruising at the injection site?

This can happen from time to time. It is not harmful. It usually means the needle has nicked a tiny blood vessel. To reduce the chance of bruising, apply gentle pressure to the site with a dry piece of cotton or a clean finger after injecting. Also, be careful not to pinch the skin too tightly or insert the needle too slowly. If you have too much bruising, consult your health care team.

What would happen if an air bubble was accidentally injected into your child?

It is not harmful to inject an air bubble under the skin. However, if you are injecting air rather than medicine, your child may not be getting the full dose, which may mean they are not being properly treated.

When to call the doctor

Call the doctor if your child experiences:

  • fever or chills
  • swelling or redness at the injection site that does not go away

How to make injections less painful for your child


  • Topical anesthetic agents, such as EMLA, lidocaine (Maxilene®), tetracaine (Ametop®) can be applied to the site before giving the injection. Your pharmacist or nurse can tell you how long to apply these agents before your child’s injection.
  • Sugar mixture (oral sucrose 24%). You can make this at home by mixing one packet of sugar to two tsp of water. Place a few drops of the mixture onto your baby's tongue a few minutes before the injection and while you are giving the injection. This will make it less painful for your baby. This works in children up to 18 months of age.   


Babies can be distracted with colourful mobiles and mirrors. Younger children can be distracted with blowing bubbles or party blowers, reading a favourite book, playing with a musical toy, or with the use of virtual reality glasses. Older children can choose what they wish to be distracted with -- a hand-held video game, for example.

Imagery and Relaxation

Ask your child to try to imagine a pleasant experience. As your child focuses on something other than the pain, ask her to describe it using all her senses. Your child can also pick an image that feels relaxing to her. You can also suggest other sensations such as sound, smell, taste, and touch that go with the situation. You may suggest that as she breathes steadily in and out, she is blowing away the tension in her muscles. 

Straddle Position
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Reducing pain for babies and toddlers

  • Straddle your baby on your lap so that she is facing you and her limbs on are on each side of you. This is similar to giving your child a ‘bear-hug’. This position is easy to do when there are two people present. The other person can inject on one of the injection sites as you securely hold your baby in place.
  • Breastfeeding is a good time to give your baby an injection. This will make the injection less painful. This is possible if there is a second person available to give the injection while you are feeding.
  • Let your child suck on a pacifier during the injection. Many toddlers and babies find this soothing and feel less pain during the injection. You can also dip the pacifier in the sugar mixture (described above).

Some medicines need to be injected at 90º angle

Your child's nurse will let you know when you need to make a SC injection at 90º. 

Key Points

  • A SC injection is a medicine that is injected into the fatty layer just below the skin. It is just above the muscle.
  • The injection site varies with the age of your child.
  • Insert needle directly through the skin at a 45º angle into the fatty layer.
  • Give the injection quickly, and don’t pull back on the plunger (aspirate) prior to injection.
  • Discard the needle and syringe in a thick, plastic bottle or sharps container with a lid.
  • Do not discard the needle in your regular garbage.


Sharifa Habib, RN(EC), MN, NP-Paeds
Brenda Graydon, RN

Celine Menezes, RN