In what is sure to stir up the corporal punishment debate new research has uncovered that babies feel pain in much the same way as adults and perhaps even more. The findings challenge some experts' beliefs that babies don't feel pain.
The logic behind the seemingly ridiculous idea that babies don't feel pain is that babies' brains aren't developed enough for them to really "feel" pain, said study lead author Dr. Rebeccah Slater, who works in the department of pediatrics at Oxford University in England. "Our study provides the first really strong evidence that this is not the case," Slater said.
"Our study suggests that not only do babies experience pain, but they may be more sensitive to it than adults," she said in a press release issued by the university.
The study was composed of 10 healthy infants, ages 1 to 6 days, and 10 healthy adults, ages 23 to 36. All were subjected to MRI scans of their brains while they were poked on the bottom of their feet.
The MRI scans showed that 18 of the 20 brain areas that were active in adults in response to pain were also active in the babies.
Most interestingly, the scans revealed that babies had the same response to a weak poke as adults did to a poke that was four times as strong, which suggests that babies have a much lower pain threshold than adults.
"Up until recently, people didn't think it was possible to study pain in babies using MRI because, unlike adults, they don't keep still in the scanner," Slater said.
But babies less than a week old are more calm than older babies, and "we found that their parents were able to get them to fall asleep inside a scanner so that, for the first time, we could study pain in the infant brain using MRI," she explained.
The findings are particularly important since babies can't articulate well their experience of pain and it is tough to assess pain from visual observations.
Practically speaking, said Slater, babies undergo painful procedures every day, but there is usually no pain management guidelines available to help clinicians.
"We have to think that if we would provide pain relief for an older child undergoing a procedure, then we should look at giving pain relief to an infant undergoing a similar procedure," Slater concluded.
An interesting line of further research will be the pain tolerance of children versus adults and the implications this has on discipline techniques like spanking, which could turn out to be more severe than we assume. The researchers intend to pursue several different lines of inquiry related to their findings, according to the report.