Mother’s voice lowers pain in premature babies

Premature babies are put in incubators and have to undergo various medical procedures to keep them alive, but cannot always be given painkillers. Keystone / Attila Balazs

If a mother speaks to her premature baby during a medical intervention, signs of the baby’s expression of pain decrease, research has found.

This content was published on August 27, 2021 - 13:44

The baby’s level of oxytocin – the hormone involved in attachment and also linked to stress – also rose significantly, says a press release on Friday from the University of Geneva (UNIGE). 

The research, conducted by a UNIGE team in collaboration with Italy’s Parini Hospital and the University of Valle d’Aosta, demonstrates the importance of parental presence with premature babies, who are subjected to intense stress from birth, according to the press release. 

Babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks of gestation) are separated from their parents and placed in an incubator, often in intensive care. They are subjected to various medical interventions such as intubation, insertion of a feeding tube and blood sampling, but it is not always possible to give them pharmaceutical painkillers because of potential impacts on their neurological development. 

Other ways to try and relieve the baby include putting them in bags and wraps to keep them warm, sugar solutions or non-nutritive sucking with a teat. But for several years now, studies have shown that the presence of a mother or father has a real calming effect on the child, particularly through the emotional modulations of the voice, says the press release. 

For this latest research, the scientists followed 20 premature babies at the Parini Hospital in Italy and asked the mother to be present during the daily blood test, which is done by extracting a few drops of blood from the heel. The study was conducted in three phases over three days, allowing for comparison: a first injection was taken without the mother being present, a second with the mother talking to the baby and a third with the mother singing to the baby. 

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