Scientists at UCL (University College London) have measured responses to pain in the brains of premature babies and have shown that they are likely to experience ‘true’ pain rather than simply displaying reflex reactions.
The paper, published today in The Journal of Neuroscience, illustrates that routine care procedures for premature babies, such as heel-lancing for blood tests, can cause pain in premature infants. This study, undertaken on infants in the neonatal unit at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital, is the first direct scientific measure of pain in premature babies.
Professor Maria Fitzgerald, UCL Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, who led the team, said: “The uncertainties regarding pain management in preterm infants have been increasingly highlighted in recent years and there is a lack of basic information about effective methods of pain control in the youngest patients. As a result, while considerable effort is made to provide clinical pain-control in babies undergoing invasive procedures, this remains suboptimal in many units.
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