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Sugar may pacify, not relieve pain of needle pricks for babies

Sugar may pacify, not relieve pain of needle pricks for babies

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SALT LAKE CITY — In the first 18 months of a baby's life, they may receive as many as 15 injections. Doctors often administer sugar to ease the pain, but a review of studies says sugar may only pacify a baby's cries during the painful shots.

A Cochrane review released this week looked at data from 14 medical studies on using sugar for pain relief during more than 1,500 babies. What they found was that while there is no evidence that sugar is a pain reliever, administering sugar water to a baby a couple minutes before injection may soothe their cries.

"Giving babies something sweet to taste before injections may stop them from crying for as long. Although we can't confidently say that sugary solutions reduce needle pain, these results do look promising," said Dr. Manal Kassab of Jordan University of Science and Technology and lead researcher of the review.

Soothing a baby after immunizations
The 5 S's
Swadde infants
Place baby on their side or stomach
Make "shushing" sounds in their ear
Swing them in your arms or an infant swing
Give them something to suck on

Sugar is not the only way to pacify a crying baby during immunizations or heel-prick blood tests. recommends swaddling infants, placing your baby on their side or stomach, make white-noise "shushing" sounds in their ear, swinging them in your arms and letting them suck on something immediately following a prick.

The biggest obstacles for researchers with understanding whether or not sugar is a pain reliever rests in the facts that babies may feel pain differently than older children and they cannot communicate their pain. They may cry during or after an injection, but they can't tell doctors and nurses why they're crying. It could be the shot, but it could also be that they're irritable and tired, uncomfortable, hungry or need their diaper changed.

Parents may be able to help in that area, but so may using a consistent measure of pain.

Kassab noted in her research that the differences in administration of the sugar, as well as the sucrose concentration in the doses need to be looked at in order to understand the optimal dosage and sugar's effectiveness.

"Due to the differences between the studies, we were unable to identify the optimal concentration, volume or method of administration of sweet-tasting solutions in infants aged one to 12 months. Further large RCTs are needed," authors wrote.

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Celeste Tholen Rosenlof


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