During our study on why pre mature babies ‘tune out’ and become unresponsive after surgery, Eria Walusimbi a physiotherapist at Kampala Physiotherapy clinic on Monday last week revealed to us that doctors overlook pain in premature infants a reason as to why they ignore administering pain relief treatment to babies. He said that babies receiving intensive care experience pain much like adults since their brains light up in a very similar way when exposed to the same painful stimulus.
“Pre-mature infants are sensitive to pain because their brain and nervous system are still developing. A child admitted in an intensive care unit who is not properly assessed for a good treatment is at a high risk of getting overwhelmed by stress that leads to an apparent disconnect between his brain activity and his behavior. Early life pain alters neural circuits in the brain that regulate stress, suggesting pain experienced by infants who often do not receive analgesics while undergoing tests and treatment in neonatal intensive care to permanently alter future responses to anxiety, stress and pain in adulthood,” he said.
Walusimbi added that it is important to treat and care for babies in a way that minimizes both stress and pain because stressed babies may not seem to respond to pain even as their brain is still processing it. “People know little about how babies feel pain. One is supposed to tell that a baby is in distress from their reaction and tell whether they want to be held comfortably or treated. A good balance between analgesia and sedatives makes it possible to avoid future problems,” he said.
He further noted that when new babies are under stress, their brains show a heightened response to pain, therefore care givers ought to be extremely careful while looking after them because a baby won’t tell when he/ she is not okay and sometimes even the visual expression might directly indicate any problem at all.
“While a dampened response to painful and stressful situations may seem advantageous at first, the ability to respond appropriately to a potentially harmful stimulus is necessary in the long term.” he said.