Motherly Affection Found to Relieve Premature Babies’ Pain: Study



The University of Geneva (UNIGE), in collaboration with the Parini Hospital in Italy and the University of Valle d’Aosta, has found that maternal voice can have a great soothing effect on prematurely delivered babies in a study conducted recently.

It can reduce the pain experienced by babies who typically undergo a plethora of surgical procedures when they’re placed in an incubator for intensive care. The study’s findings were publicized in the journal Scientific Reports.

Although meant to be beneficial for the baby, routine medical procedures alleviate his/her pain. Painkillers and analgesics may be used sometimes for this purpose, but these may have a pernicious impact.

Moreover, these operations can impair the babies neurologically or psychologically, adversely affecting their normal growth and development.

It was observed that whenever the mother spoke to the baby at the time of any medical intervention, the oxytocin levels within the baby surged significantly.

Oxytocin is a hormone typically associated with sentimental attachment and stress reduction, and these results might prove to be indicators for better pain management.

A baby delivered before 37 weeks of gestation has to undergo procedures like blood sampling, intubation, feeding tube, etc., to keep them alive and breathing.

The study’s main inspiration was to find alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs to relieve pain. For that purpose, maternal and paternal presence was suggested and monitored.

Procedures Followed

To test the hypothesis, the team of Didier Grandjean asked the mother to be present
for the daily blood test of the child, involving taking blood from the heel of the child.

This was conducted in three phases → first, the mother being absent, second, mother singing to the baby and third, the mother talking to the baby.

All of the above activities were performed in a controlled environment with the minimal noise possible (barring the ruckus created by ventilators and other instruments).

The order also varied, with some being performed before and after the injections for blood sampling.

The baby’s pain was ascertained by putting together Preterm Infant Pain Profile (PIPP), which makes use of facial and physiological indicators like a heartbeat, oxygenation, etc., to put together a coding grid betwixt 0 and 21, which will give some semblance of the amount of pain experienced by the baby.

The videos were filmed and tested blindly so that there may not be bias in judgment by trained personnel so that they didn’t know that mothers were present or not.


The results that were then uncovered were nothing short of remarkable. The PIPP recorded in the mother’s absence was 4.5, which decremented to 3 when the mother started talking and to 3.8 when the mother sang to her baby.

The difference between these levels during singing and talking was explained by the researchers as “indiscernible vocal intonation” whenever the mother sang, which improved when she started speaking, as the melody didn’t mask the original vocal structure.

In addition, the hormonal changes in the baby were also measured during these activities. Subsequently, it was found that oxytocin levels rose from 0.8 picograms per millilitre to 1.4 in the event of mother enunciating.

Dr Manuela Filippa, a researcher in Didier Grandjean’s group, termed it a “significant breakthrough.”

Parents play an indispensable role in their children’s lives, and their presence can make their children feel loved and protected, with the nurturing of healthy bonds and can be advantageous for the care and well-being of such children, Dr Filippa and Dr Grandjean collectively concluded.

Priyanshu Mohanty
Priyanshu Mohanty
Professionally, an undergraduate student, pursuing B.Tech. in Computer Science Engineering and personally, a happy-go-lucky guy, he's someone who staunchly believes in the maxim of Carpe Diem. Apart from his obvious fervour & zest for penning down poetry and short stories (, which helps him to unwind and seek temporary haven in contemplation and retrospection, he likes to dabble in a gamut of wide-ranging endeavours like working on software projects related to data science nocturnally, association with an NGO, appreciating the didacticism of Longfellow, exploring the cosmos' mysteries or playing encephalon-tickling games, to name a few. In a nutshell, he's a jack of many trades and master of, well, some.



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