Study: Moms Soothe Baby's Pain Better Than Dads

Babies undergoing a painful medical procedure show less pain when they're in mom's arms instead of dad's, a new study shows.

Reuters Health reports that researchers observed 62 premature babies in neonatal intensive care as they had blood drawn from their heels for tests.  The mothers and fathers alternated holding their babies for each blood test. Researchers videotaped the babies' faces, and then analyzed the tape for signs of pain, "such as squeezed eyes and a furrowed nose and lip," Reuters said.

Babies exhibited fewer pain signs when their mothers held them. Researchers suspect the difference could be related to anatomy. "The difference in the male physique, especially the chest, may be perceived by the infant to be not that of a natural caregiver," the scientists said.

Still, the difference between mom and dad was small, and the study may be more important for showing the benefits for preemies of skin-to-skin contact with their parents. Also called "kangaroo care," this involves nestling an undressed baby against the parent's bare skin, and then covering the parent and baby with a blanket.

"There's a big difference between when a baby gets (blood drawn) alone in an incubator and when the mom or dad holds the baby for this procedure," said Dr. Larry Gray, a pediatrician at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the new study. "The first take-home is, boy, this really works."

Previous studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact has a number of positive health benefits for the baby, including relieving pain. And that could be especially important in preemies that need extra medical procedures and are more fragile than full-term babies, experts say.

"Here's a little 3-pound baby who says, 'I'd much rather have weighed 6 pounds or 7 pounds at birth, and now I have to keep myself warm, I have to beat my little heart,'" Gray said. With kangaroo care, "the parent provides the warmth, and the breathing regulation, and all of those hidden things," he told Reuters Health.

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