Study claims that gently stroking babies can reduce pain of medical procedures

Comforting our little ones is a priority which every parent has, especially when they undergo medical procedures.

Of course, we want to comfort them and never let go of their tiny hands, but science has now confirmed that there are tangible benefits to this need.

Oxford University researchers have determined the 'optimal velocity' of soothing touch with newborns as 3cm per second, and that gentle touch can reduce the pain felt during procedures.

An upset baby can be soothed by a gentle touch, and it's perception of pain can even be dulled according to Oxford University.

The study also discovered that lightly stroking a little baby can activate touch sensitive nerve endings and contributes to quashing unpleasant sensations. 

University of Oxford researchers studied the responses to uncomfortable early-years procedures, such as blood tests and injections.

They witnessed a significant reduction in electrical impulses in the brain's pain centres by using an electroencephalaogram (EEG), testing on children who were being lightly touched.

Rebeccah Slater, who is Professor of paediatric science at University of Oxford, has said; “Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity.”

“We hypothesised that stroking would reduce pain-related brain activity, so we were pleased to see it," she continued.

“But we didn’t see a reduction in how they reflex their limbs away from the heel lance. That could mean our intervention is perhaps causing a dissociation between limb movement and brain activity.”

Current Biology published the findings, and it's assumed that the information will be incorporated into suggestions for new parents as well as medical staff in neonatal units.

Side-effect free painkilling properties can be massively valuable, and may explain why parenting technique which involve touch can aid in the bonding experience.

'Kangaroo care' causes the activation of a group of sensory nerve cells named as c-tactile afferents.

Slow stroking in adults has been known to cause this effect, but it was unknown whether this was instinctive behaviour or learned.

Professor Slater mentioned previous research on parental bonding, saying;

“There was evidence to suggest that c-tactile afferents can be activated in babies and that slow, gentle touch can evoke changes in brain activity in infants.”

“Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay," she added.

“Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side effects.”

This is ground-breaking work on newborns and the power of comforting touch, the research will hopefully improve the experiences of babies in neonatal care.

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