Giving newborns sugar to relieve pain thrown into question

Common treatment of giving newborn babies concentrated sugar doesn’t actually help, according to new study


Sugar shouldn’t be given to relieve a baby’s pain while undergoing minor medical procedures, as it actually doesn’t relieve pain and may even damage the child’s brain, according to research published in The Lancet today.


The study, conducted by University College London, measured the reactions of 59 newborns after they had undergone a routine heel prick test, and then been given a small dose of sucrose, which is a concentrated sugar solution that’s given orally.

Researchers found that although babies may seem more relaxed, because their expressions change, their brains continue to feel pain.

“Our findings indicate that sucrose is not an effective pain relief drug,” said Dr Rebecca Slater, who led the study.

“This is especially important in view of the increasing evidence that pain may cause short and long-term adverse effects on infant neurodevelopment.

“While we remain unsure of the impact sucrose has, we suggest that it is not used routinely to relieve pain in infants without further investigation,” said Dr Rebecca.

The results go directly against the current medical practice and against previous studies that suggests it works.


“This is an important study,” said Neena Modhi, a professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London.
“Sucrose is given because it seems to work. If it’s confirmed that sucrose doesn’t work, we have a problem because we don’t have any effective treatments for acutely painful procedures in newborns,” explained Professor Neena.

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