New Study Finds That Stroking Babies Can Provide A Reduction In Pain

Many parents already know that the power of touch can work wonders when it comes to comforting their little ones, and a new study from the University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University now has the science to back it up.

But this study takes it even further. Its findings have shown that touch also provides relief from pain. The study, published in Current Biology, found that gently stroking a baby reduces activity in the part of the brain that is associated with painful experiences. During the study, a total of 32 babies were observed and monitored as they underwent blood tests. Before the test, half of them were stroked using a soft brush. Ultimately, this group was found to show 40 per cent less pain activity in the brain.

According to study author Rebeccah Slater, touch has the power to deliver analgesic (pain) relief, without the risk of side-effects commonly associated with pain medication.

"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," she added.

Interestingly, stroking speed matters. When it comes to reducing pain in infants, Slater and her team found that there is an "optimal pain-reducing stroking speed" of three centimetres (or one inch) per second. Parents were found to seemingly be tuned into this, instinctively knowing the correct velocity.

Popular anecdotal evidence surrounding infant touch claims that practices such as infant massage and kangaroo care (skin-to-skin bonding) also reduce infant pain, and this study aligns with the theory that touch can, in fact, have immensely positive effects for both babies and their parents.


"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," said Slater.

Unlike healthy term babies, premature babies undergo a significant number of painful medical procedures and researchers and advocates for premature infants see this study as a huge step forward in reducing infant pain.

"Many people do not realise just how many medical procedures a baby in neonatal care goes through during their hospital stay," said Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive at the premature and sick baby charity, Bliss"Anything that can reduce a baby's discomfort is a huge step forward in this underfunded area of research."

Thanks to funding from Bliss, the study's authors are planning to repeat their experiment - this time with premature babies. The main difference between term and premature infants is the sensory pathways in premature babies are still developing.

NEXT: Premature Babies: 10 Things Doctors Have To Say About Them (And 10 Ways To Predict It)

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