Gentle stroking of babies reduces brain activity associated with painful experiences and therefore works as an analgesicaccording to new research.
Researchers of the Oxford University and the John Moores University in Liverpool monitored the brain activity of 32 babies while they took a blood sample. Half of them were stroked with a soft brush before the procedure and showed a 40% reduction in brain activity associated with pain.
Lead researcher Rebeccah Slater said: “Caresses seem to have analgesic potential without, of course, the risk of side effects”. The research found that the optimum stroke rate was about 3 cm per second.
Parents instinctively stroke their babies at this optimum speed. If we can better understand the neurobiological mechanisms of techniques such as infant massage, we can also improve the advice we give parents on how to calm their babies.
This speed of movement activates a class of sensory neurons in the skin, which has previously been shown to reduce pain in adults. However, it was not clear if babies would have the same response or if these neurons develop over time.
“Let me, like this, express you, when words flee, oh, expression of touch, only precise voice, let me, like this, express my tenderness to you.”
The results of the research, published in Current Biology, explain that calming power of caressing practices that all parents already knew empirically. Previous research has shown that touching can increase the bond between parent and baby, significantly reducing stress and even length of hospital stay.
The researchers now plan to repeat the experiment in premature babies whose sensory neural pathways are not yet fully developed. Hoping the results are positive, they point out that many people do not realize the number of medical procedures that babies and especially those born prematurely sometimes go through. Anything that can reduce a baby’s pain is welcome and takes us one step further.