Partnering with parents to improve pain treatments for sick and newborn babies

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021

As a parent or caregiver, it is hard to watch your baby go through medical tests and procedures that may cause them pain. Parents and families play an important role in comforting babies during painful procedures but are often unaware of these strategies and their positive effects in reducing pain.

Breastfeeding and holding babies skin-to-skin, are two simple and effective family-centred strategies to reduce babies’ pain, that are often overlooked in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). Miracle Babies is passionate about promoting the role of parents in the care of their babies’ in NICU and improving the uptake for family-led strategies to reduce pain.

The University of Melbourne’s Be Sweet to Babies research team collaborated with the Miracle Babies Foundation to research family-led strategies for babies' pain treatment. Survey participants were invited to watch the Be Sweet to Babies video showing pain treatments such as, breastfeeding, holding babies skin-to-skin, and using sugar water during blood collection. They then answered a survey about their previous knowledge and use of the pain treatments shown in the video.  

The research found more than half of the parents surveyed were aware sucrose was used for pain reduction, while fewer parents had previously used skin-to-skin care or breastfeeding.

Most participants had not previously seen the video, however, most rated it favourable after watching, with 82% finding it helpful and 91% found the video easy to apply. Furthermore, after viewing the video, 89% of parents intended to recommend it to others, and many planned to advocate for one or more of the pain treatments.

The majority of participants expressed that painful procedures for babies is emotionally distressing for parents, and there is a need and want for more information to be shared about ways parents can participate in managing their infant’s pain. Other common experiences were expressed by parents in the study, including concern some hospital policies and practices prevent parent involvement in their babies' pain treatment, and parent led pain treatment may be impractical for some infants.

In the neonatal space, there is often low uptake for new research, prolonging the time it takes to get results into practice. With parents working alongside clinicians and researchers in studies like this, it becomes easier to increase the uptake of best practices and improve care for more babies and young families. Taking down the barriers, and alleviating the fear of research can reassure parents and provide them with the knowledge they need to advocate for evidence-based practices, and become more involved in their babies’ care.

This important survey will help bolster further research into how easy to understand educational videos, like the one in this study, can be used to educate and empower parents; and to investigate if it increases actual use of the treatments during their babies' painful procedures. Future research will also explore how to overcome the barriers to parents being present and involved during painful procedures in hospital settings.

The University of Melbourne and Miracle Babies Foundation research team would like to thank all the participants in the study about family-led strategies for babies' pain treatment.

To find out more about the results click the image below: