WEDNESDAY, July 19, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-feeding can ease the pain experienced by newborns during routine heel-prick or needle-stick blood tests, Canadian researchers report.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 newborns in 11 studies that compared the effectiveness of breast-feeding and breast milk to sugar water or a pacifier in easing the discomfort experienced while the blood samples were taken from infants.
"The babies who were breast-fed experienced less pain, compared to not giving anything, or just swaddling them or a placebo of sterile water," lead reviewer Prakeshkumar Shah, a neonatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said in a prepared statement.
Breast-feeding and sugar water were about equally effective in reducing pain.
The reviewers said it's unclear how breast-feeding may help reduce the pain, although a number of factors -- the mother's comforting presence; skin-to-skin contact; diversion of the baby's attention; and the sweetness of breast milk -- probably play a role.
The use of any kind of pain relief for this procedure varies from hospital to hospital, Shah noted. Some health workers and parents don't believe that the procedure causes enough pain to require pain relief.
The review findings also suggest that breast-feeding may offer a natural method of pain relief for premature babies, who often have to undergo many painful procedures, Shah said.
"Right now, quite a lot of hospitals have adopted the practice of giving sugar water to those babies for analgesia. But we don't know what happens to them long term by exposing them to high concentrations of sugar," Shah said.
"I think more research is needed on the effectiveness of breast-feeding and breast milk for those babies," he said. "What we are proposing in this review is to do further research on those sick babies that are admitted to the (neonatal intensive care) unit who are exposed to multiple painful procedures."
The findings are published in the current issue of The Cochrane Library.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about newborn screening tests.