Stroking Babies Provides Pain Relief, Study Finds

Stroking Babies Provides Pain Relief, Study Finds

Most parents know stroking babies is effective. They know the power of touch can calm and soothe even the most cranky baby. 

And, according to a new study from Oxford University and Liverpool John Moores University, now it’s actually science!

Stroking Babies Provides Pain Relief, Study Finds

The researchers found gently stroking babies seems to provide pain relief during medical procedures.

The research, published in Current Biology, concluded a stroking speed of approximately 3cm per second provided pain relief before medical procedures.

“Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity”, says senior author, Rebeccah Slater.

“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”.

What Did The Study Find?

The team of researchers measured the pain responses of newborn babies during medically necessary blood tests.

The babies’ brain activity was measured using electroencephalography or EEG. This measures tiny bursts of electrical activity on the surface of the brain.

The researchers observed the behaviour of the babies during the procedures.

Half of the babies in the study were stroked gently with a soft brush immediately before the blood test. The researchers found the babies in the stroking group showed decreased pain-related EEG activity.

How Is This Research Useful?

The researchers hope this knowledge will be useful in clinical settings – for example, when babies need to have procedures. 

It will enable parents to soothe their babies more effectively during medical procedures.

It could also explain why touch-based interventions such as kangaroo care and baby massage are growing in popularity.

The research team plans to repeat the experiment for premature babies, to see whether they see different results with babies whose sensory pathways are still developing.

“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”, says Professor Slater.

“Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side effects”.

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Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.

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