Lead researcher Professor Maria Fitzgerald said that for the first time they have shown that the information about pain reaches the brain in premature babies. This they hope will help in managing pain in premature babies. Previously though assumed it was never proved. As the baby's brains are so immature that it was difficult to genuinely know if pain was going to their brain. Research had previously showed that premature babies are capable of displaying behavioural, physiological and metabolic signs of pain and distress. But these measures were all indirect and thought to be bodily reflex reactions, rather than measures of true pain experience.
Researchers conducted brain scans on 18 babies in the neonatal unit at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital in central London. The scientists registered the brain activity in the babies - aged between 25 and 45 weeks from conception - before, during and after nurses performed blood tests They said that the results showed a surge of blood and oxygen in the sensory area of their brains, which meant that the pain was processed in the higher levels of the brain.
The team further stated that this finding clearly shows that there was a chance that pain experience could influence brain development. Stating that each premature baby when in intensive care is subjected to an average of 14 procedures per day, many of which are considered by clinical staff to be painful, such as heel lancing for blood tests and inserting chest tubes. Therefore they felt as premature babies can feel true pain, there should now be a clear way to handle the pain felt by premature babies.
Concluding that only 20% of neonatal units in the UK regularly use a pain tool to assess chronic pain. They strongly felt that there was no need for babies to be in pain and that more attention should be paid to providing comfort and relief when painful procedures are being conducted while they are in neonatal care.