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Newborns Need Pain Relief ,Too

Pain Control Recommended for Newborns

Laurie Barclay, MD

November 11, 2009 — Feeding and breast-feeding newborns are found to be the most effective methods of pain relief during heel-lancing, according to the results of a prospective study reported in the November issue of Pediatrics.

“Pain experience can alter clinical outcome, brain development, and subsequent behavior in newborns, primarily in preterm infants,” write Amir Weissman, MD, from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and colleagues. “The aims of this study were (1) to evaluate several simple, commonly used methods for pain control in newborns and (2) to evaluate the concordance between behavioral and autonomic cardiac reactivity to pain in term neonates during heel-lancing.”

During heel-lancing for routine neonatal screening of phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism, 180 term newborn infants were randomly selected to 1 of 6 groups: (1) control (no intervention for pain relief); (2) sucking without feeding; (3) holding by mother; (4) ingestion of oral glucose solution; (5) feeding with oral formula; or (6) breast-feeding. Response to pain was assessed with the Neonatal Facial Coding System score; duration of crying; and autonomic variables determined from spectral analysis of heart rate variability before, during, and after heel-lancing.

Compared with newborns in any of the 5 intervention groups, those in the control group with no pain intervention had the greatest levels of pain manifestation. Breast-feeding or feeding with oral formula appeared to be most effective vs all other groups, based on the lowest increase in heart rate (21 and 23 beats per minute, respectively, vs 36 beats per minute; P < .01), neonatal facial score (2.3 and 2.9, respectively, vs 7.1; P < .001), cry duration (5 and 13 seconds, respectively, vs 49 seconds; P < .001), and the lowest decrease in parasympathetic tone (–2 and –2.4, respectively, vs 1.2; P < .02). “Any method of pain control is better than none,” the study authors write. “Feeding and breast-feeding during heel-lancing were found to be the most effective methods of pain relief.” Limitations of this study include low sensitivity of the pain assessment methods, large variability of newborn response to painful stimuli, and the subjective nature of interpreting these data. “Neonatal pain prevention is the expectation of the parents and should be the goal of the medical staff; therefore, family members or staff may be recruited to help during these procedures, and nursing mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed during the procedure,” the study authors conclude. “If family members believe that they cannot withstand the procedure, hear their infant crying, or see the heel-lancing, then bottle-feeding seems to be a good alternative.” The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Pediatrics. 2009;124:e921-e926.