Skin-to-skin contact and babies’ brain response to pain

Jason Goodyer, PA Science and BBC Science Focus, discuss findings which ‘reinforce the important role of touch between parents and babies’.

Researchers from the UK and Canada analysed the pain response in the brain of 27 infants, aged between 0-96 days, who were born premature or at term age at University College London Hospitals as they underwent heel lance – a standard but painful procedure used to collect blood samples.

They recorded the infants’ brain activity using electrodes placed on their scalps as they underwent heel lance with the babies split into three groups: those lying in cot or incubator, those being held by their mothers while wearing clothing, and those being held by their mothers with skin-to-skin contact.

The infants’ initial brain responses to the pain were found to be the same in all three groups. However, the researchers found the later waves of brain activity were impacted by whether the baby was held skin to skin or with clothing.“We have found when a baby is held by their parent, with skin-on-skin contact, the higher-level brain processing in response to pain is somewhat dampened,” said senior author Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi, a neuroscientist at University College London. “The baby’s brain is also using a different pathway to process its response to pain.”

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