Cortical Pain Response of Newborn Infants to Venepuncture: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Analgesic Effects of Sucrose Versus Breastfeeding

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Sucrose administration and breastfeeding decrease behavioral expressions of pain in neonates. However, recent studies indicated that there is a persistent cortical response with sucrose. This study compared the efficacy of sucrose administration versus breastfeeding to decrease cortical responses to pain during venepuncture.

Patients and Methods:

A randomized, prospective, controlled trial was conducted in a tertiary level maternity ward. Healthy, 3-day-old term neonates, undergoing venepuncture for neonatal screening, were randomly assigned to receive sucrose solution or be breastfed before venepuncture. Variations in the total hemoglobin concentration [HbT] in the contralateral somatosensory cortex were assessed with near infrared spectroscopy. The Neonatal Facial Coding System (NFCS) was used to assess reactions.


There were 114 term neonates included, with 102 included for the primary outcome (breastfed group: 48; sucrose group: 54). Similar maximum increases in [HbT] were observed in both groups (mean±SD: sucrose group: 31.2±58.1 μmol/L; breastfed group: 38.9±61.4 μmol/L; P=0.70). Breastfed neonates presented more behavioral expressions that indicated pain compared with sucrose-administered neonates (46.8% vs. 26.8% of NFCS ≥1, P=0.04). The maximum increase in [HbT] was persistent, although newborn infants who did not express behavioral signs of pain had lower concentrations than neonates who did (mean±SD: 21.2±29.1 vs. 60.0±89.8 μmol/L, P<0.01).


There was no difference in the cortical responses to pain during venepuncture in newborn infants who were administered sucrose versus those who were breastfed.

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