This study examined if infant immunization distress is related to their mothers' affective involvement prior to the injection. The duration of infant cry vocalizations and the amount of maternal behaviour before and after the syringe injection were observed in 18 mother–infant dyads, of whom nine comprised 3-month-old and nine 15-month-old infants. The maternal behaviour was scored in terms of various soothing strategies used to calm infants in distress. Infant cry duration, in both the 3- and the 15-month olds, was associated with amount of maternal eye-gaze before the injection. For the 15-month olds, also face-to-face contact and rocking the infant was associated with more crying. Even though the small scale of the study warrants some caution in the interpretation, the overall findings suggest that young infants have a referential understanding of caregiver affective involvement prior to a stressor. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.