According to a recent study, preterm newborns cannot bear pain as much as full-term infants, children and adults.  

Preterm newborns are babies born alive before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies may be born preterm due to spontaneous preterm labor or due to early cesarean birth.

Medical operations during the beginning of the first few weeks of life have a huge impact of preterm infants’ development if they have not yet acquired the mechanism that allows humans to become accustomed to mild pain.

The study involved 20 infants where half of whom were preterm while the other half were either born at full term or preterm but tested at term age. The two groups were compared in terms of their actual postnatal age, as the preterm babies had a median age of 14 days, compared to 10 days among the full-term group.

The study recorded the infants’ brain activity with EEG (electroencephalography) electrodes placed on the scalp and their heart rates using ECG (electrocardiography) and also monitored their facial expressions and reflexes in withdrawing the leg.

In the case of full-term infants, the research showed that the brain activity was not as strong immediately after the second heel lance suggesting a habituation response. The heart rate and facial expressions showed a similar pattern as preterm infants reacted just as strongly to both heel lances while the full-term infants showed to be habituated to the pain.

Moreover, the study indicated awareness of the extra vulnerability of premature babies to pain. So, it is important to protect preterm babies from repeated painful experiences.

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