Study shows gently stroking babies ‘provides pain relief’

by Maeve Campbell |

Stroking your baby is a natural instinct. Not only does it feel comforting to both you and your baby, but it is also already well documented that skin-to-skin contact encourages bonding, especially when they are new-born.

A study carried out by two leading universities has been monitoring the brain activity in babies in relation to pain, while they had blood tests being done. They found that gently stroking a baby with a soft brush reduces activity in their brain associated with painful experiences.

Half of the babies were stroked with a soft brush before the blood tests were administered, and they showed 40% less pain activity in their brain. In particular, the study found that the optimal pain-reducing stroking speed was about 3cm per second (the rate a parent would stroke their baby intuitively).

Professor Rebeccah Slater, author of the study, explains that the speed of stroking activates sensory neurons in the skin (called C-tactile afferents) that have been previously been shown to reduce pain in adults. This experiment illustrated that slow, gentle touch is what can evoke changes in infant brain activity.

She says, "We already know that positive touch - such as skin-to-skin care - makes a real difference directly to babies in neonatal care and also helps parents to bond with their baby.”

"If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies."

"Anything that can reduce a baby's discomfort is a huge step forward in this underfunded area of research."

The study, by The University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University, monitored 32 babies, with a plan to repeat the experiment in premature babies, whose sensory pathways are still developing.

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