No parent wants to see his or her child experience pain.
Sadly, for parents of sick or preterm babies requiring hospital care, it’s a common event with preterm and sick babies often undergoing on average 12 painful procedures every day, with the majority receiving little or no pain relief.
In addition to the immediate pain and stress babies experience during these procedures, these babies may develop learning and motor delays, behavior problems, and lower academic achievement later in life. This has to change.
As a neonatal nurse practitioner and a researcher who has cared for mothers and babies for over 25 years, I decided to explore ways to minimize these negative outcomes. Historically, mothers have always been crucial to infant survival and wellbeing but they are not always involved in critical care settings. Over my time at the bedside, I noticed that the power of touch could have a positive impact on infants and mothers. So I decided to study this. We found that Skin-to-Skin Contact (SSC), sometimes called kangaroo care, where an infant lies directly on a mothers’ chest, between moms and infants has powerful benefits and can even significantly decrease pain responses in preterm and full term infants undergoing a single painful procedure such as blood collections and needle pokes. However, it is not just mothers that can provide pain relief – fathers, alternative care providers and co-bedding twins have been found to effectively reduce pain during procedures as well!
Despite these positive findings related to pain management in newborns, pain is still associated with regular procedures and continues to be undermanaged for these infants during their hospital stay. A significant challenge remains related to practice change in the NICU. We found that while nurses reported fewer concerns over time related to helping mothers provide SSC as a pain-relieving strategy in the NICU, the amount of the time SSC was actually used did not change.
Knowing the positive impact that families can have on minimizing pain during painful procedures by simply asking for it is something that I felt I had to get into the hands of parents. Therefore, I created a parent friendly video titled “Power of a Parent’s Touch” that is meant to empower parents to help minimize neonatal pain in the NICU. Launched on December 2, 2014, it has received over 156,000 views so far in over 150 countries around the world!
It’s not just the one in ten babies that are born preterm worldwide that are adversely affected by untreated pain. Untreated pain is an issue for every baby, even those that are born healthy. Every baby in the world undergoes painful procedures in the first few hours and days after birth and many can receive up to 20 injections in their first years! Parents are one of our most underutilized resources to help relive this pain.
We need to change that. Parents can make a difference.