Pain sensitivity and temperament in extremely low-birth-weight premature toddlers and preterm and full-term controls

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SummaryHigh-technology medical care of extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) infants (< 1001 g) involves repeated medical interventions which are potentially painful and may later affect reaction to pain. At 18 months corrected age (CCA), we examined parent ratings of pain sensitivity and how pain sensitivity ratings related to child temperament and parenting style in 2 groups of ELBW children (49 with a birth weight of 480–800 g and 75 with a birth weight of 801–1000 g) and 2 control groups (42 heavier preterm (1500–2499 g) and 29 full-birth-weight (FBW) children (> 2500 g)). Both groups of ELBW toddlers were rated by parents as significantly lower in pain sensitivity compared with both control groups. The relationships between child temperament and pain sensitivity rating varied systematically across the groups. Temperament was strongly related to rated pain sensitivity in the FBW group, moderately related in the heavier preterm and ELBW 801–1000 g groups, and not related in the lowest birth-weight group (< 801 g). Parental style did not mediate ratings of pain sensitivity. The results suggest that parents perceive differences in pain behavior of ELBW toddlers compared with heavier preterm and FBW toddlers, especially for those less than 801 g. Longitudinal research into the development of pain behavior for infants who experience lengthy hospitalization is warranted.

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