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Breastfeeding May Reduce Infant Pain

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Breastfeeding can help minimize the pain an infant suffers while getting a blood sample drawn or undergoing other minor medical procedures, new study findings suggest.

"Since breastfeeding probably constitutes the most potent pleasant stimulation a newborn can experience, we hypothesized that breastfeeding could have analgesic properties," said study author Dr. Ricardo Carbajal, a pediatrician at Poissy-Saint Germain Hospital in France. "Our study shows that breastfeeding during a painful procedure effectively reduces pain in newborn infants."

It's not clear precisely how breastfeeding helps. "The different components of breastfeeding such as touch, temperature, odor or milk taste may all play a role," Carbajal told Reuters Health. "We believe that natural protective mechanisms are activated by breastfeeding to soothe pain in newborns."

Sixteen of 44 babies who were breastfed during vein puncture on the back of the hand to draw blood showed no indication that the procedure had even occurred, according to findings published in the January 4th issue of the British Medical Journal.

Results of the study, which involved a total of 180 newborns divided into four groups, also revealed that placing infants on a table, feeding them a sugary solution and then giving them a pacifier helped reduce levels of pain during the procedure. This was not surprising because previous research had indicated that sweet solutions and pacifiers helped minimize pain, Carbajal noted.

While pain scores in the new study tended to be slightly lower for the breastfeeding group than for the group that got the sugary solution and a pacifier, the difference was not statistically significant.

Compared with babies in a placebo group who were placed on a table and given water but not a pacifier during the procedure, no reductions in pain were seen among infants who were held in their mothers' arms but not breastfed.

Pain levels were assessed by infants' facial expressions, crying, arm and leg movements, heart rate and other factors.

Carbajal said finding ways to reduce infant pain during minor medical procedures like drawing blood is important because pain medication is rarely used in these tiny patients due to concerns about effectiveness and side effects.

It is reasonable to suggest that breastfeeding may also help reduce pain from routine baby vaccinations, though more studies in this area are needed, Carbajal added.

Vein punctures were performed on the infants for a variety of reasons, including tests for thyroid problems, sickle cell disease and blood typing.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2003;326:13-15.


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