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5 Ways to Ease Newborns' Pain

New babies get poked and prodded a lot -- and it may hurt them more than they let on. When researchers at University College London measured the brain activity of preemies having their heels pricked (for blood tests), they found that many of them felt pain but didn't show it. Other research has shown that nearly 80 percent of procedures performed on babies in intensive care units are done without pain medication. Triply troubling: There's evidence that infants who endure lots of pain may become highly sensitive to it, and may even have developmental or behavioral problems as a result.

Healthy full-term babies don't undergo as many procedures as preemies, but most have their fair share. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to lessen discomfort, says M. Terese Verklan, Ph.D., a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at the University of Texas Health Science Center's School of Nursing, in Houston. Some proven pain-easers:

  • Sucking on a pacifier, bottle, or breast during or immediately after a procedure, such as a vaccination.

  • Skin-to-skin contact: holding your baby's bare body against your own.

  • Lidocaine: an over-the-counter numbing cream (such as EMLA) that's rubbed directly on skin. It takes 60 to 90 minutes to "set in" but can prevent pain during shots.

  • Subcutaneous ring block: Lidocaine injected under the skin before circumcision. Request it, says Verklan.

  • Acetaminophen after any procedure may help stave off pain -- if the doctor says it's okay.
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