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Mother's Milk As Natural Painkiller

From the WebMD Archives

April 1, 2002 -- Breastfeeding may be a natural way for mom to ease the pain of her newborn child. A new study shows breastfeeding virtually eliminated crying and grimacing in infants who were breastfed while undergoing a painful procedure.

Researchers say several aspects of breastfeeding such as taste, suckling, and skin-to-skin contact have already been shown to relieve pain on their own in animal studies. But this study is among the first to look at the complete act of breastfeeding as a way to prevent pain in human infants.

For the study, infants were held and breastfed by their mothers while a blood sample was taken from the child's heel (a procedure known as heel lance) while researchers monitored the baby's reactions.

Crying and grimacing was reduced by 91% and 84%, respectively, among infants who were breastfed during the procedure compared with babies who had the procedure under normal circumstances (swaddled in their bassinets). In fact, 11 of the 15 breastfeeding babies did not cry or grimace at all during the procedure. Researchers say this suggests that breastfeeding may actually prevent pain from starting.

"When watching these infants on videotape, we could not tell when blood collection was either initiated or terminated," write the authors. "We believe that this reflects pain blockade, as opposed to suckling producing a behavior that is incompatible with crying."

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, also showed that breastfeeding prevented the normal rise in heart rate that accompanies pain.

Researchers say these findings show that pain relief and stress reduction should be added to the long list of proven benefits of breastfeeding.