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Lowering parental stress: Research focuses on comforting babies

Working with parents, babies and healthcare professionals to better understand how healthcare professionals can better support premature and sick babies.

The baby is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom were all killed when a 7.8-magnitude quake struck Syria, flattening the family home
The baby is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom were all killed when a 7.8-magnitude quake struck Syria, flattening the family home - Copyright AFP BULENT KILIC
The baby is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom were all killed when a 7.8-magnitude quake struck Syria, flattening the family home - Copyright AFP BULENT KILIC

The Neuroimaging Group, at the Department of Paediatrics, in collaboration with Bliss, a charity for babies born premature or sick, has launched a new suite of information resources for parents of neonates.

The information is designed to make parents feel more confident about being involved in the care of their babies.

While evidence demonstrates that parents can play a positive role in comforting their baby during painful procedures, practice in the UK lags far behind. 

The new research, published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health and Pain, provides further evidence about the positive impact that being involved in their baby’s care has on parents.

This is based on the parental touch trial (Petal), experiments that aimed to assess whether parental touch at a speed of approximately 3 centimetres per second to optimally activate C-tactile nerve fibres, provides effective pain relief during a heel-prick procedure.

While there was no difference in the babies’ brain, behavioural or heart rate response to pain regardless of whether the parent touched their baby before or after the painful procedure, the findings demonstrated that the majority of parents had positive emotions when involved in their child’s care – such as feeling useful and reassured – and an overall decrease in parental anxiety after their participation.

There was a high degree of involvement by both fathers (35 percent) and mothers (65 percent) in delivering the parental touch to their babies. This contrasts with other studies, where only mothers’ opinions and involvement have been sought.

Commenting on the research lead researcher Ruth Guinsburg states: “This study is an example of excellence in research. The trial was carefully designed with a clear question, strict inclusion and exclusion criteria, a well-designed and reproducible intervention based on biological plausibility, and defined outcomes, with the strength of using an objective rather than a subjective measure of pain.”

She adds: “Only with trials like this might we transform faith in science and test the efficacy of traditional aspects of parental care in order to incorporate them, or not, in bundles to alleviate the pain in neonates.”

The Petal trial shows the importance of involving parents in the provision of care and comfort for relieving their child’s pain. It is hoped these findings will be incorporated more fully into healthcare practices.

For those interested in reading further, resources are located at: Being involved in your baby’s care and procedures | Bliss

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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