Breastfeeding a Pain Reliever for Premature Infants?
Canadian researchers from the BC Children's Hospital and the University of British Columbia conducted a study to learn if premature infants in the hospital's neonatal unit would show lower pain scores if they were being breastfed during blood collection. Breastfeeding during painful procedures has been shown to reduce pain response by 80 to 90% in full-term infants, but this approach had not previously been tested in preterm babies.
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At present, pain in infants during minor procedures such as blood tests is managed with distractions and interventions such as pacifiers, sweet-tasting substances, and skin-to-skin cuddling. But these measures fail to provide consistent or complete relief. There is concern that experiencing pain early in life may cause both short and long-term consequences in infants' behaviors, pain thresholds, stress responses, and even their developing brains.
"Finding creative ways to apply breastfeeding for pain mitigation in premature infants is important, because recent research suggests that sweetening agents used to reduce minor procedural pain may act as sedatives rather than analgesics, and they may have negative effects on development," says lead investigator Professor Liisa Holsti.
One major concern researchers wanted to examine was whether or not infants may come to associate pain with breastfeeding, and therefore not feed effectively enough to gain weight. They divided 57 infants into two groups, one of which was breastfed during blood collection, and one of which was given pacifiers. Using the Behavioral Indicators of Infant Pain scoring system and measuring heart rates, researchers made three major findings:
1) There was no negative impact on breastfeeding skill development in babies just learning to suckle.
2) Babies that were not yet experienced breast feeders did not benefit from being nursed during procedures.
3) Babies who were established breast feeders did show significantly lower pain scores if nursed during procedures.
Doctors also noted that it took less time to obtain a blood sample if babies were being breastfed during the procedure. The researchers say their finding support further research on the benefits of breastfeeding during minor medical procedures, particularly for more mature feeders.
The current research appears to add yet more evidence to the benefits of breastfeeding for newborns. Breastfeeding is strongly encouraged in Canada, and mothers with low milk production are often given prescription domperidone for breastfeeding.
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