OBJECTIVES: We studied neonatal cortical brain response to 4 types of nonpharmacological analgesia (oral glucose, expressed breast milk, maternal holding plus oral glucose, breastfeeding). We aimed to assess the differential effect of oral solutions (glucose, breast milk) given alone or combined with the maternal-infant relationship (holding, breastfeeding).
METHODS: Eighty healthy term newborns undergoing a heel stick were randomly assigned to 4 parallel groups of 20 infants each: group 1, infants received a glucose solution on a changing table; group 2, infants received expressed breast milk on a changing table; group 3, infants received a glucose solution in their mothers’ arms; and group 4, infants were breastfed by their mothers. Cortical activation in parietal, temporal, and frontal cortices was assessed by multichannel near-infrared spectroscopy. Pain expression was also evaluated.
RESULTS: Oral glucose alone or combined with maternal holding was associated with no cortical activation during heel stick. Expressed breast milk was associated with localized bilateral activation of somatosensory and motor cortices (P < .01). Breastfeeding was associated with extensive bilateral activation of somatomotor, somatosensory, and right parietal cortices (P < .01). Pain expression was lower with the maternal-infant relationship (P= .007).
CONCLUSIONS: Oral glucose, either alone or combined with maternal holding, appears to block or weaken cortical pain processing. Breast milk alone is associated with localized cortical activation. Breastfeeding is associated with extensive activation and may act by extending cortical processing. Maternal relationship, both combined with oral glucose and in breastfeeding, shows the greatest analgesic effect, although the neural patterns involved are distributed differently.