Scientists at Oxford University say that babies feel pain in the same manner as adults, according to a new report.
Babies’ brains “light up” on MRI like adults’ when presented with painful stimuli. The study looked at 10 healthy infants less than seven days old. The babies were placed in an MRI machine until they fell asleep. MRI scans were taken when a painful stimuli (poked on the bottom of their feet with a “pencil-like” retracting rod). The scans were then compared to adults presented with the same stimuli.
The study suggests that babies may actually be more sensitive to pain than adults. Scans of the babies’ brains showed that they lit up four times more intensely than adults.
“Up until recently people didn’t think it was possible to study pain in babies using MRI because, unlike adults, they don’t keep still in the scanner!’ said Dr Rebeccah Slater of Oxford University’s Department of Paediatrics, who is lead author of the report. “However, as babies that are less than a week old are more docile than older babies, we found that their parents were able to get them to fall asleep inside a scanner so that, for the first time, we could study pain in the infant brain using MRI.”
Dr. Slater further stated, “This is particularly important when it comes to pain: obviously babies can’t tell us about their experience of pain and it is difficult to infer pain from visual observations. In fact some people have argued that babies’ brains are not developed enough for them to really ‘feel’ pain, any reaction being just a reflex – our study provides the first really strong evidence that this is not the case.”
The research is having an impact on how doctors think about procedures commonly done on infants.
“We have to think that if we would provide pain relief for an older child undergoing a procedure then we should look at giving pain relief to an infant undergoing a similar procedure,” Dr. Slater added.
In a separate effort, The Assessment and Management of Acute Pain in Infants, Children and Adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded, “Treatment of children will improve as pain management education expands and as the issue of pediatric pain is brought into greater public awareness. Education of parents and others in the community who deal with children in pain is an important pediatric issue.”
Here is a YouTube video from the University of Oxford.