LONDON: Newborn babies who appear pacified after being fed sugar during painful hospital procedures may simply be putting on a brave face, according to research.
For years doctors have been fooled by changes in facial expression that lead them to think they are easing infants' discomfort, the findings suggest.
But nerve activity in the pain centres of babies' brains tells a different story.
It shows that sugar does not work as a pain reliever for infants, contrary to advice given in international clinical guidelines.
Currently sucrose sugar is routinely fed to newborn babies to "help the medicine go down" while carrying out procedures such as taking blood samples.
Guidelines recommending the practice followed several clinical trials suggesting that sugar effectively reduced pain in premature and normal term infants.
The new study indicates that sugar merely has the effect of altering babies' facial expressions, giving the impression that they are feeling less pain.
An expert from the Medical Research Council (MRC), which funded the study, said the discovery has "significant implications" for the care of babies in hospital.
Scientists led by Rebeccah Slater, from University College London, studied 59 newborn babies who were given standard heel lance pricks to collect blood samples.
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