FEATURE: The Truth About Babies and Pain

Italian Neonatologist Is Advocate for Looking After the Vulnerable

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The needs of babies have too often been overlooked, with little attention being paid to their special needs, said Dr. Carlo Bellieni, a neonatologist based in Sienna, Italy.

In an interview with ZENIT Bellieni explained that babies suffer more than older patients and that the same stimulus can be irrelevant in an adult but terrible with long-term consequences in a baby. He also pointed out that if we learn to treat a baby with respect it will be easier to do the same with all patients.

Bellieni recently published a research paper that reviewed scientific trials in which babies were subjected to everyday painful events for which an analgesic treatment exists.

The problem with these trials, he found, was that in some cases pain treatment is given to a group of babies while another group of babies serves as a control group, receiving only a placebo.

Such practices are not acceptable, Bellieni affirmed, because while the pain procedures used in these studies are apparently minor, for example, heel stabs, they are not so minor for infants. “And the question we raise is why pain treatment is still scarcely used in these clinical trials, despite the great advances in analgesic treatment for babies,” he added.

Bellieni questioned if parents are really able to give authorization for treatments to be carried out on babies when the best interest of the child is not the aim. “An adult can agree to undergo risks or pain in the name of the scientific progress; but a baby cannot give his/her consent,” he said.

Babies, he explained, are not able to conceptualize pain, as an adult is able to do, and even minimal pain is disruptive for a baby. “Therefore, they should be handled with extreme care: some treatments acceptable for you, are terrible for a baby.”

“We can be deceived by the scarce reactivity of some babies, but this does not mean that they do not feel pain because scientific studies show that they feel it,” Bellieni added.

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