Health Check: Premature babies and pain

Premature babies appear to have a heightened response to pain

New research has found that babies born early appear to have a heightened response to pain, when compared with healthy, full-term newborns. Could it have something to do with the invasive tests that they experience in hospital?

Dr Rebeccah Slater from University College London has been measuring babies' brain activity at the same time they experience a painful stimulus.

She and her colleagues use a small cap fitted with electrodes to measure brain activity - with an electroencephalogram or EEG.

To keep premature babies as stable as possible it's essential to monitor them with blood tests - and a heel-prick test is used to collect a small sample of their blood.

The study - published in the journal NeuroImage - found a marked difference in the group of babies who were born early, who had been in hospital for at least 40 days.

Celia Richardson's son Huck was born 13 weeks early, weighing just 2.5 pounds. He spent 15 weeks in hospital.

His mother Celia was worried about him feeling pain, and calmed him by placing him skin-to-skin as often as she could. She hopes that the research will help doctors to give the best type of pain relief to premature babies.

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