To ensure our babies’ health from the get-go, having them undergo necessary medical procedures is important. But it can also be terribly heartbreaking for any parent to hear their babies crying out in pain during their time at the doctor’s clinic. Hopefully, this will give parents a bit of relief and comfort.
A new study, released in the journal Current Biology last month by researchers from the University of Oxford and the Liverpool John Moores University, states that there is a simple thing parents can do to help ease the pain our little ones might experience during those procedures — just stroke them gently!
The study's team of researchers, led by Rebeccah Slater, professor of pediatric science at the University of Oxford and senior author of the research, performed the experiment by measuring and observing newborn babies’ brain activity and behavior during medical procedures using electroencephalography (EEG), a monitoring method used to assess electrical activity in the brain and involves attaching small metal discs to the scalp.
Half of the babies who participated in the study were each given a gentle stroke with a brush right before a blood test. The researchers found that while these babies still reacted to the sensation of being pricked with a needle, they showed lower pain-related EEG brain activity.
Slater opened up about what their initial theory was upon coming into the experiment to ScienceDaily. “We hypothesized that stroking would reduce pain-related brain activity, so we were pleased to see it. But we didn’t see a reduction in how they reflex their limbs away from the heel lance.”
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In addition, the research also proposed an “optimal pain-reducing stroking speed” that is most ideal: three centimeters per second. This speed is said to be the frequency that activates "C-tactile afferents," a class of neurons that are found in the skin with evidence showing it may reduce pain in adults.
According to Slater, this is also the speed that parents naturally go for when stroking their children although its potential may not be that well-known to them. “Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity,” she said. “If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies.”
Slater added that the findings of the study can be used to help explain the reason why techniques like Kangaroo care have been proven effective in newborn babies, not only in reducing the sensation of pain but also in helping foster and strengthen the bond between the parent and her child.
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“Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay. Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side effects,” Slater said.