Recognizing and Managing Pain in Your Newborn/Neonate

How do I recognize pain in my newborn?

Newborn babies and babies born prematurely may show different behaviors when they are irritable, uncomfortable or stressed. These may include:

  • High pitched crying
  • Difficulty calming
  • Facial grimacing
  • Difficulty with feeding or taking a pacifier
  • Frequent hiccuping
  • Yawning/sneezing
  • Faster or slower breathing than normal
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Decreased level of activity

A member of the healthcare team will use a pain scale to help you decide if your baby is feeling pain. The pain scale helps the healthcare team look at the different behaviors your baby may display when in pain.

What you can do

Talk with the healthcare team about your baby's pain. It is helpful for you to know what steps you can take to help ease the pain for your baby.

Create a comfortable and safe environment

  • Cuddle your newborn and make eye contact.
  • Change a wet diaper; provide clean/dry clothing.
  • Dim the lights; block your baby’s eyes from bright lights.
  • Turn off the radio or TV; talk in a soft voice.

Use touch to provide comfort

  • Change your baby’s position.
  • Swaddle your baby with a blanket.
  • Hold your baby’s hand.

Use distraction to help your newborn focus on something other than the pain

  • Feed your baby.
  • Talk or sing to your baby in a soothing voice.
  • Offer a pacifier to your baby to suck on.
  • Try “hands on” Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) with your baby as instructed by your nurse.
  • Try “hands off” to allow your baby to calm himself.

Ask a member of the healthcare team for other ideas.

Ask questions to better understand pain and its treatment. Some important points are:

  • What kind of pain can be expected, and for how long?
  • If my baby needs a procedure, how will the pain be controlled before, during, and after the procedure? For example, you may ask your nurse about the use of sucrose pacifier dips.
  • When your baby needs pain medicine, learn as much as you can about the pain medication from the doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Pain assessment and management are important to us. We want our patients to be as comfortable as possible. Thank you for helping us to better meet your baby’s needs.

If you have any questions, ask your baby’s doctor or nurse.

Contact us

For more information about the Pain Management Program at CHOP or to schedule an appointment, please call 215-590-1409.

Reviewed by: The Pain Management Program team
Date: August 2012

August 2012