In what’s being hailed as a “provocative” study, new research highlights something that logical humans might have already surmised — babies feel pain just like adults. We are scratching our heads as to why this information isn’t already self-evident… after all, babies are human beings. According to the new findings, adult brains have been well-studied and we already know much about the affective and sensory aspects of the pain experienced in adults. However, baby brains hadn’t, as of yet, been so clearly researched. In fact, in the past, many have assumed that babies do not feel pain in the same way that adults do, which has led to some unspeakable methods of “care,” such as performing surgery on babies without the use of adequate analgesia. In more recent years, a number of infant pain assessment tools have been developed because not everyone believed that babies feel little pain as compared to adults. Now, this newest research shows us that we may have been even more wrong about babies and their experience of pain than we previously thought.

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Image: Comparison of nociceptive-evoked brain activity in selected brain regions that are active in both adults and infants.

The study shows that babies do feel pain, though not in exactly the same manner as adults. In this study, acute noxious stimulation was applied to the foot in both adults and infants while using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) changes in blood oxygen level dependent on activity in the brain were recorded in response to the stimuli. Adults were asked to verbally report their pain intensity and the researchers observed reflex leg withdrawal from the stimuli in babies, as babies cannot discuss their pain.

Adult participants who were studied reported increased pain with increasing stimulus intensity, while babies were simply observed as moving their leg to deflect the stimulus. The researchers also compared adult and baby brain activity as stimulus was applied. According to the researchers, “significant infant brain activity was observed in 18 of the 20 active adult brain regions but not in the infant amygdala or orbitofrontal cortex [and] brain regions that encode sensory and affective components of pain are active in infants, suggesting that the infant pain experience closely resembles that seen in adults.” According to their findings, because babies can and do feel pain, it’s important that caregivers and health care providers of babies continue to develop effective pain management strategies for infants.

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+ fMRI reveals neural activity overlap between adult and infant pain

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