A spoonful of sugar: Sweet taste comforts babies during injections
Fictional character Mary Poppins may have been correct when she sang "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" at least when it comes to injections for babies, according to a new systematic review published this week in the international Cochrane Library.
"In the first 18 months of their lives, babies may have as many as 15 injections," says Dr Foster.
"Current medical science is unable to say for certain whether babies feel pain in the same way as older children and adults, or whether they are simply unable to express it. However, there's no denying injections and other medical procedures that puncture the skin cause discomfort and can make babies cry."
Dr Foster says one simple alternative that is now widely used is the use of a syringe or dropper to put a few drops of a sugary solution in a child's mouth.
"Sugar may trigger the release of pain-relieving chemicals in the body that have an analgesic effect."
The researchers reviewed data involving a total of 1551 infants aged between one month and a year. Most studies compared sucrose, given two minutes before immunisation, with water.
Overall, babies given the sugary solution cried for a shorter time than those given water. However, individual studies used different pain measures, making it difficult to conclude that sugar solutions actually reduced pain.
Lead researcher, Manal Kassab of the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan says: "Giving babies something sweet to taste before injections may stop them from crying for as long."
Dr Foster says an earlier Cochrane review showed that sugar reduces the effect of painful procedures in newborn babies.
The latest results have encouraged the researchers to now examine whether a more concentrated dose of sugar could reduce the discomfort in older and larger babies aged 6 to 12 months.
"We need to know what is the most effective concentration of sugar to have a similar comforting effect on older babies who can receive up to three injections in a single visit," says Dr Foster.
"Vaccinations can be stressful for parents. Anything reduces the discomfort for both babies and parents is a good thing."
The study was a collaboration involving Jordan University of Science and Technology, University of Western Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney.
15 January 2013