The relationship between caregiver sensitivity and infant pain behaviors across the first year of life

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Previous caregiver sensitivity and infant pain behaviour predict future sensitivity and behaviour in the immunization context, but consistent interrelationships are not seen until 12 months of age.

Recent research has begun to examine discrete caregiver pain management behaviors in the infant immunization context. However, there is a dearth of research exploring more global caregiving constructs, such as emotional availability, which can be used to examine the overall sensitivity of caregiver pain management. The aim of the present study was to examine the relationships between caregiver sensitivity (emotional availability) and infant pain behavior (baseline, immediately post-needle, 1 min after needle) over the first year of life. Parents and infants were a part of a Canadian longitudinal cohort (the Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt or OUCH cohort) followed up during their 2-, 4-, 6-, and 12-month immunizations (current n = 731). Both within-age group analyses and over-age analyses were performed. Results indicated that: (1) over age, previous infant pain behavior predicts future infant pain behavior, but this varied depending on timing of pain response and age of infant; (2) over age, previous caregiver sensitivity strongly predicts future caregiver sensitivity; and (3) the concurrent relationship between caregiver sensitivity and every type of infant pain response is only consistently seen at the 12-month immunization. Caregiver sensitivity to the infant in pain is predicted most reliably from previous caregiver sensitivity, not infant pain behaviour. The significant concurrent relationship between caregiver sensitivity and infant pain behaviours is not seen until 12 months, replicating patterns in the infant development literature regarding the time at which the attachment relationship between parent and child can be reliably measured. Discussion addresses implications for both researchers and clinicians who work with infants in pain.

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