Our newborns might not be able to talk with us and tell us when something hurts.
They can’t say they’re feeling lonely, or they’re tired of staring at the ceiling.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling pain, loneliness or boredom.
When we are not used to spending time with a variety of newborns, it’s common to assume they’re too underdeveloped to feel pain and emotions as we do.
Even top experts once assumed newborns didn’t really feel pain and, if they did, they were too young to remember it in a way that would have any lasting impact.
Research now shows that to be untrue. Babies can and do feel pain. It can affect them immediately and have long lasting effects.
Babies can even become bored. They can be affected by a lack of stimulation and interaction with caregivers. What happens in the early weeks, months and years can have an impact on them that lasts for the rest of their lives.
The good news, however, is that with this knowledge you can help your newborn become a healthy and secure infant and toddler and, one day, a secure adult.
Your Baby Feels Pain And Has Emotions, Just Like Other People
Even though your baby can’t express them, she has feelings, just as older children and adults do.
It’s important to understand what emotions your baby might be feeling. It’s also important to understand how pain can affect a baby and to use that knowledge when making decisions regarding medical procedures.
Here are 7 things you need to know about your newborn:
#1: Your Newborn Can Communicate
Your baby might not be able to articulate exactly how she feels, but she can communicate with you.
We know that babies can communicate by crying. Although it’s common, it isn’t the only form of communication newborns have.
Rubbing their eyes and yawning can be early signs of being ready for sleep.
Licking lips, opening their mouths, and putting hands in the mouth can be early signs of hunger.
Fussing, yelling or even withdrawing when put down can be signs of feeling lonely or insecure.
When a baby is excessively lethargic or sleepy, following a medical procedure, or during illness, this could be a sign of pain and discomfort.
Taking time to watch and learn your baby’s cues can help both of you during the early months. The more you’re able to answer before your baby starts to cry, the more she will learn about communicating beyond crying and fussing.
#2: Your Newborn Can Feel Pain
If our doctor suggested we have a complex, or even a simple, medical procedure without any local pain medication, chances are we would think twice about undergoing the procedure.
Yet, in recent decades (and perhaps even right now) it wasn’t uncommon to perform minor and major medical procedures on newborns without any pain medications.
The assumption was their systems were too underdeveloped to process pain in the same way. Babies often appear sleepy or lethargic during and right after procedures. This can lead us to assume they have tolerated the procedure just fine, when in reality they’ve essentially shut down and gone into shock, because the pain was too much to handle.
#3: Your Baby Is More Sensitive To Pain Than You Are
Being a parent comes with what seem like never ending warnings. This information isn’t meant to add to your worries, but to help alleviate them, and offer some options.
A study published in 2015 found that babies feel pain just like adults, but they’re also more sensitive to that pain. These results might be different from what we expected, given we’ve heard for many years that babies don’t feel much pain.
If we think about newborn babies’ experience, their increased sensitivity makes sense. They’ve just spent nine months in an environment free of hunger, cold, heat, and so on. Experiencing those sensations for the first time would be overwhelming. It makes sense that they would be even more sensitive to pain.
#4: You Can Help Your Newborn Cope With Pain
Many newborns are subjected to heel pricks for blood testing, circumcision, and other procedures. The good news is you can help your baby cope if pain becomes an unfortunate necessity.
All medications have risks, so for minor medical things, like blood tests, the benefit of local or oral pain medication isn’t likely to outweigh the risks. Swaddling, breastfeeding, talking to your baby, cuddling, and other ‘feel good’ gestures give your baby added security, and can help her cope with pain.
This also helps your child to build trust in you. While pain and discomfort might be an unfortunate part of life, your baby can learn that mama or daddy is always there, to bring security and comfort during the pain.
If medical procedures are necessary, take time to discuss pain relief options with your child’s doctor. There are many options. Once, there weren’t many guidelines available, but in the light of recent research, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published a new statement regarding newborn pain relief.
#5: Your Baby Can Feel Lonely
After nine months in a safe and warm environment, where they were never alone, coming earth side can be quite a transition for babies. For the first time in their existence, they experience physical separation from their caregivers. After constantly hearing a heartbeat and being ‘held’, being put down for long periods of time can be quite scary and lonely.
Some infants will go down easily and seem content to be alone. However, in some situations they might have learned that no one will come if they fuss. Other babies make quite a bit of noise, alerting their caregivers they don’t feel secure on their own .
If your baby is content with some down time, go for it, in moderation. But be sure to answer her cries, even when you know she’s been fed and changed. Newborns need touch and interaction as much as they need oxygen.
#6: Your Baby Can Get Bored
While babies might not seem incredibly interactive, they actually thrive on interaction and stimulation. They can be overstimulated, of course, but they can also become bored. If your baby is fed, changed, and well rested, but still fussy, consider a change of scene.
A toy, a colourful book, or a simple walk outside can help alleviate your baby’s boredom. You don’t need to make elaborate plans. Simply singing about what you’re doing, pointing out objects during errands, and chatting with baby during your walk can help keep her well stimulated.
#7: You Can Help Your Baby’s Emotional Health And Security
Everyone (including babies) has a unique temperament, but our early environment can have a huge impact on our emotional health and security.
When your baby learns that you will answer her attempts at communication, and her cries, when she’s comforted during pain and discomfort, and when she has touch and stimulation, she’s likely to develop better emotional health and security.
Your baby is born quite well developed, with complex feelings and the ability to feel pain. Knowing this is important. It helps you make informed decisions about everyday care and medical procedures. If you take time to build a relationship with your baby, it will help her feel loved and secure.