Pain relief for newborn babies

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A group of neonatologists – Peter Gray and his colleagues examined 212 Australian hospitals in which 200 or more babies a year are delivered about their knowledge and use of techniques that bring pain-relief for minor procedures in infants born at term or near term.

Dr Gray of Mater Mother’s Hospital in Brisbane declared that inspite of good evidence that giving infants a breast milk or a sucrose (a sugar solution) during procedures could lessen or deaden the pain, they were not commonly used in Australian hospitals.

“We were surprised, given the wealth of information that’s available. Newborn babies in Australia, certainly the vast majority, are not being given any .” – Gray said.

The scientists discovered that before taking blood from babies, only 11 per cent of units used sucrose, 24 per cent gave breast feeding and 10 per cent used breast milk in order to relieve pain.

According to researchers, the results concerned procedures that were common in babies who routinely get a hepatitis B injection and the heel prick screening test before leaving hospital.

“One might say: ‘Oh well, what’s one injection or one blood test?. And indeed that may be a valid statement” – Dr Gray noticed.

“But other babies might have a number of tests for jaundice or they might have an infection and need blood taken for other reasons as well. Indeed, there’s some evidence now that past experiences of pain have been associated with altered brain development and behavioural problems in older children. We really need to address this issue and to minimise the pain. I’m not saying that giving sucrose or putting the baby to the breast will abolish the pain altogether – but it certainly will minimise it and this has to be good.” – Gray expressed.

The study appeared recently in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The researchers obtained the information in a telephone interview with the most senior persons from special care nurseries or the maternity units.

Dr Gray emphasized that the scientists found significant differences between states, with few hospitals in Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia giving pain relief to infants having blood taken.

“The awareness and use of Pain relief in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria was probably the highest and the other states didn’t so well” – he stated.

Last October, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians brought out guidelines for doctors managing pain in children. The guideline include a 24 page section on newborn babies.

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