We parents are pretty magical. We can change a dirty diaper in a pitch-dark room; juggle bag upon toy-filled bag while pushing the stroller with one hand; and decipher our kid's babble like no one else on earth. In fact, even our mere presence can be powerful, especially when our baby is in pain.
Now, this isn't necessarily a new idea. Any parent of a cruising kiddo knows how just one kiss from you can take the sting out a bad fall. Studies have also found that when a parent or caregiver is present during a painful procedure, the child appears to feel less pain. But Regina Sullivan, a neurologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, and pain expert Gordon Barr, of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to see whether a mom's presence during a painful procedure actually affected the way her baby's brain functioned, the Washington Post reported.
To figure that out, they gave infant rats mild electric shocks; some had their moms nearby, others didn't. The researchers then examined what happened in the portion of the baby rats' brains where fear is processed. "We found that the pattern of gene expression was very different in the two conditions," Barr told the Post. "Many of the genes that were changing because the mother was present are later related to brain development. ... We know that having the mother is not innocuous, it is a major shaper."
But one caveat before we throw ourselves a well-deserved ticker tape parade: Researchers still don't know the long-term effects of your being present while your baby undergoes repeated painful procedures (like the infant rats did). Sullivan said evidence from studies involving animals shows that it could make the brain more susceptible to psychiatric disorders. "I don't think the infants can tell the difference" where the pain is coming from, she pointed out.
"These procedures being done on an infant may be very beneficial in that moment in time," Barr added. "We do want to reduce the pain, but we need to think about what are the long-term consequences."
Which makes perfect sense, of course. In the meantime, though, I'll keep kissing my son's boo-boos, sitting beside him while the dentist counts his teeth, holding him close during vaccinations—and offering whatever comfort I can.
Is it a belly ache or something more serious? Consult our Baby Symptom Checker to see if a call to the doctor is in order. And don't forget to like All About Babies on Facebook to keep up with the latest baby news!
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Parent holding baby's hand courtesy of Shutterstock