For decades, it was a long-held “fact” that babies were unable to feel pain after they were born. This was a result of doctors claiming that when babies had pinpriks done to their heels, they “did not respond” in the manner that would be appropriate to indicate pain, such as pulling the leg up to remove the foot from the pain, according to The New York Times. As such, it was thought that pain was not felt in babies for up to one year after birth. Something that has since been debunked, but only over the past few decades to acknowledge that babies feel pain. This means that in the 1990s, babies were going through painful procedures that could be remembered later on in life. And the memories of pain that babies experienced affected them not only in childhood but beyond as well.
It was not until parents began to question whether babies felt pain in the 1980s that it was even considered that the procedures that preemies, newborns, or infants were undergoing caused them pain, according to Anesthesiology. But after letters to editors were written, the lawsuits were brought against hospitals and doctors, and public outcry over doctors causing pain to babies that the effort was made to determine whether pain was felt in this population.
And the outcome was that pain was felt just like it was in adults, according to the University of Oxford. In some instances, even more so. When procedures are done that can lead to pain, ways to mitigate that pain need to be found so that babies are not carrying the memories of trauma from the procedures with them as they age.
Here is the scoop as to why babies can remember pain.
Babies Are Able To Feel Pain In The Womb
Over the past year, the discussion of abortion has brought up whether babies in utero are able to feel pain. Something that up until several decades ago would have never been discussed. But with more research being done on the topic and science being more advanced, it has been determined that it is possible for babies to feel pain before birth. When that is though, is still up to debate according to many today.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the medical community has determined through “rigorous scientific studies” that babies in utero cannot feel pain until 24 to 25 weeks gestation. This is because, before this time the connections in the brain necessary to feel pain are not present. The connections and structures that help the brain determine that something painful is happening do not occur until the beginning of the third trimester.
Regardless of when people believe pain is able to feel in utero is going to be up for debate based on scientific fact and personal belief. But what is clear is that at some point, pain can be felt. Meaning that newborns and infants are capable of feeling pain as well.
Idea That Babies Cannot Feel Pain After Birth Has Been Refuted
It was not until the 1980s that doctors were willing to entertain the fact that preemies and newborns were capable of feeling pain. Something went against everything physicians had been taught by their predecessors. But by doing some serious research, doctors saw old theories of infants feeling pain were incorrect. And that newborns were indeed capable of feeling pain at birth and remembering that pain as well.
According to The Circumcision Reference Library, Young children and adults are capable of remembering the pain they experienced shortly after birth. Be it being poked for the heel stick, the immediate coldness of the metal scales, the pain from the ointment being put into the eyes, getting shots, having blood drawn, a circumcision being performed, or even no one responding to cries. These are all things that are either able to be recalled from memory or done so with hypnosis.
Because of this, more doctors have been taking steps to decrease the level of pain babies feel. All done in hopes that there will not be long-term effects of these experiences in the future.
Pain Caused In The Hours After Birth Can Have Long Lasting Effects
Some babies have to undergo several painful procedures in the hours and days after birth. If care is not taken and stress and pain become too great, what is felt during those medical procedures can have effects that last long beyond infancy.
According to Current Biology, when stress and pain occur during the first days and weeks of life, “adverse changes” occur to the central nervous system. This means that even if babies do not have a particular memory about a medical procedure they underwent, the body will remember the stress-related.
As such, revisiting hospitals or having areas of the body touched where a medical procedure was done can feel uncomfortable later in life. All because babies were not given the opportunity to lower their stress levels be it through medicated pain relief or other methods while painful procedures were being conducted.
Ways To Minimize Pain For Newborns
With knowledge of pain felt and remembered, there are ways that parents can take part in minimizing just how much is experienced during medical procedures.
According to PregnancyBirth&Babyways to minimize pain for babies include:
Of course, if medical procedures are surgery-based, these will not be applicable while the surgery is taking place. After, they will work wonders.
Fortunately, these days, more facilities are using anesthesia on babies to perform life-saving surgeries, according to Riley Children’s Health. It is something that makes it so that painful procedures are not felt but also reduces infant stress. Both things will help babies to not have traumatic memories of pain, leaving them free of the long-term effects babies may endure during childhood and beyond.
Source: The New York Times, Anesthesiology, University of Oxford, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Current Biology, The Circumcision Reference Library, PregnancyBirth&Baby, Riley Children’s Health