One of the areas of medicine that seems to be neglected is pain management. That is true of all ages, but one of the least studied age groups for investigating the experience of pain is what infants experience before, during, and after birth. There are special challenges when studying babies and pain.
Pain assessment in babies is difficult because they don’t talk and it is difficult to know whether they are in pain or whether their crying is due to something else. The use of facial expressions or body jerking or wiggling is likely to be very misleading. The May 3 issue of Science Translational Medicine carried a report on the use of electroencephalography (or EEG). Doctors used a special device called a Cz electrode to pick up brain waves when the baby experienced a painful event such as having its heel lanced to draw blood. The electroencephalogram showed a neural spike immediately after having the poke to the heel.
Babies born prematurely between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation show the same kind of responses to pain. Not all babies have exactly the same response, but there is enough consistency to believe that the babies do in fact sense pain. The babies did not show the same response to loud noises, flashing lights, or non-painful touches.
This research suggests a number of things. Procedures done on babies that could cause pain in an adult seem to be very likely to cause pain in a baby. The use of painkillers and the effect of medical treatment on the brain of a small child needs to be more carefully studied. Medical studies of babies and pain must proceed with care.
The question of whether abortion causes pain in the baby must be considered. The answer seems to be that babies do sense pain and that is also true of premature babies. Women who are considering medical procedures on their babies and especially abortion need to know what the evidence shows.
Reference: Science News, June 10, 2017, page 8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017