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Responses of New-borns to Stress and Pain

It is often seen that adults complain of suffering from stress, mental pain. Obviously, handling stress and harsh conditions is not easy. Sometimes, even mature adults are unable to express their pain and agony.

Have we ever wondered that how new-born infants tackle and respond to stress? Laura Jones of the University College London and her colleagues conducted a research on the behaviour of new-born babies under stress. The researchers enrolled 56 healthy, new-born infant boys and girls. The researchers measured the stress levels based on salivary levels of cortisol stress hormone and heartbeat patterns of the infants. This measurement was made both before and after a clinically necessary heel lance. A heel lance is the standard way of taking blood samples in new-borns, but it is a painful procedure. The babies’ pain response was also measured using EEG brain activity and facial expression. The data showed that babies’ with greater background stress, showed a bigger brain reaction to the heel lance procedure. Whereas, this increased brain activity didn’t correspond to a behaviour change. As a result, the researchers concluded that the brain of the new-born baby shows increased response to pain, whenever the baby undergoes stress. But this cannot be estimated from the babies' behaviour. When babies undergo pain, then it is found that their brain activity and their behavioural responses like crying and grimacing increases. On the contrary, while undergoing stress, an evident disconnect occurs between the babies' brain activity and their behaviour. This is because; stress causes a larger response in the babies’ brain, followed by a painful procedure. This increased brain activity doesn’t match the babies’ behaviour. This means that the caregivers often underestimate the pain that the infants experience. Researchers have further planned to study other environmental factors and experiences that influence the way new-borns process and experience pain.

By: Anuja Arora



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