Helping Your Newborn or Infant Cope With Pain After Surgery

Because your baby can't tell you how she feels, the first step in helping her cope with her pain is recognizing it, then doing what you can to comfort and calm her.

How you can tell if your baby is in pain

Even if your baby can't talk yet, he's still capable of communicating his pain to you. Once you recognize pain symptoms in your baby, you can take steps to soothe him.
When babies are irritable or uncomfortable, they may show it with:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Difficulty calming
  • Facial grimacing
  • Chin quivering
  • Difficulty with feeding or taking a pacifier
  • Frequent hiccupping, yawning or sneezing (more often seen in newborns)
  • Faster or slower breathing than normal
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Minimal movement or wanting to be still or quiet

Your baby's healthcare team can use a pain scale that lists these behaviors to estimate your baby's pain level.

How to help your newborn cope

  • Remember that you're a part of your child's healthcare team. Talk to your child's physicians and nurses so that you better understand pain and its treatment. Tell them what comforts your child, ask for advice if you need it, and ask questions such as:
    • What kind of pain can I expect my child to have, and for how long?
    • What do I need to know about the pain medications you're giving her?
  • Create a comfortable and safe environment by:
    • Making eye contact
    • Changing wet diapers and giving her clean, dry clothing when she needs it
    • Turning off the lights or covering your baby's Isolette
    • Talking in a soft voice
    • Changing her position
    • Providing "boundaries" by swaddling her with a blanket or surrounding her with a blanket roll
    • Giving him "quiet time" and allowing for times of undisturbed sleep
  • Use touch:
    • Cuddle your child and use a gentle but firm touch to give her comfort and security
    • Hold her hand
    • Rock her in a rocker, swing or your lap
  • Distract him. Help your newborn focus on something other than the pain by:
    • Feeding him
    • Talking or singing to him in a soothing voice
    • Offering a pacifier for him to suck on
    • Trying a "hands-off" approach to allow your baby to calm himself
    • Trying "hands-on," skin-to-skin care (also called "kangaroo care"); ask your child's nurse for instructions

Next Steps