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Reducing your baby’s pain during invasive tests or procedures

Why will my baby have pain?

While in hospital, either in the postnatal ward or in Mater Mothers' Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU), your baby may need to undergo tests or procedures, or have treatments that can cause them to feel pain. It is important that your baby is offered comfort and support during this time.

Some of these tests or procedures may include the Newborn screening test—offered to all babies between 48 to 72 hours of age. For further information about this test please refer to Mater Mothers' Hospitals' brochure Your baby's Newborn Screening Test.

Other tests or procedures that your baby may need are an injection/s for vitamin K or immunisations, blood sugar monitoring or measuring jaundice levels.

More extensive tests may be required if your baby is being cared for in NCCU. This may include the insertion of tubes to give fluids through a vein, give milk via mouth into the stomach, or to help with breathing. Some babies may also need tubes placed in their chest or abdomen as part of their treatment, or require an operation. Pain following an operation can last for several days afterwards.

How is my baby’s pain managed?

Babies express their pain in different ways such as in their facial expressions and movements, and changes may also occur to their heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and colour. The nurses and doctors will do everything they can to prevent pain, look for signs of pain, and relieve pain. They will help you identify signs that your baby may be in pain or discomfort and support you to be involved as much as you would like in working with them to make your baby comfortable.

Breastfeeding has been shown to be the most effective method of relieving pain for procedures or tests. If this is not possible, a sweet solution (sucrose), which has also been shown to help reduce pain, can be given directly into your baby’s mouth several minutes prior to the test.

If you are able to breastfeed your baby during the test you will be asked to start feeding several minutes before.

If you are unable to breastfeed during the procedure your baby can be given some of your expressed breast milk (EBM) or some sucrose delivered to the top of their tongue via a syringe several minutes before the test. The effect from sucrose or EBM from a syringe is enhanced if the baby is able to suck on a pacifier at the same time.

Holding your baby during and after a painful procedure may help them to feel more secure and limit their responses such as crying and agitation. It is also known that familiar smells such as breast milk or your skin may have a calming effect on both term and preterm babies.

Holding your baby is not always possible in NCCU for some tests and procedures. Swaddling your baby is one way that can help them feel secure and contained. This method can also be used if you decide that holding your baby for a particular test would be too distressing for you.

If your baby’s pain is more severe, they may be given another form of pain relieving medication. This will be discussed with you by the team caring for your baby.

Can I give sweetened solutions at home if my baby has pain?

No. After discharge from hospital, sweet solutions such as sugared water or honey should not be given to your baby. The sucrose solution used to relieve your baby’s pain in hospital is specially made to be used by health care professionals only. Sugared water can increase the incidence of dental caries (cavities). Honey should not be given to infants under 12 months of age as it can lead to botulism (a severe form of food poisoning). 

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430027
Last modified 27/7/2020.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 30/6/2020
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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