Babies Feel Pain Similarly to Adults, Study Suggests

crying infantDespite evidence—such as crying, resisting, and seeming afraid—that points to babies’ ability to feel pain, the notion that very young children feel either no pain at all or less pain than adults persists. Even as recently as the 1980s, babies routinely were denied pain medication during surgery. A 2014 review found that 60% of babies in neonatal intensive care units receive no pain medication, despite being subjected to an average of 11 procedures each day that could be expected to be painful.

A small study comparing the brains of babies and adults experiencing pain may finally dispel the idea that infants don’t feel pain.

Babies Apparently Feel Pain, Too

Using MRI scans, researchers compared the brains of 10 healthy newborns to the brains of 10 healthy adults. The babies were between one and six days old, with the adults ranging in age from 23 to 36 years. Researchers poked both the babies and the adults on the bottoms of their feet with a rod designed to simulate the sensation of being poked with a pencil. Prior to being placed into the MRI machine, babies were lulled to sleep by their parents.

The babies’ brains showed similar levels of activity to adult brains in 18 of 20 regions associated with pain, even though the painful stimulus was not sufficiently strong to awaken the babies. The absence of pain-related activity in two brain regions doesn’t mean that babies feel less pain than adults, though. Instead, newborns showed similar reactions to adults exposed to a sensation four times as strong. This suggests not only that babies feel pain just like adults, but that their pain threshold is lower. Thus, when babies undergo painful procedures, they may suffer even more than adults, especially without pain medication.

The authors of the study argue that their research suggests that babies should get the same pain relief as adults and older children.


Babies feel pain ‘like adults’: Most babies not given pain meds for surgery. (2015, April 21). Retrieved from

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  • ellie


    April 22nd, 2015 at 2:01 PM

    Am I behind? I mean, I never thought that babies Couldn’t feel pain

  • Trey


    April 22nd, 2015 at 3:29 PM

    I don’t want them to feel any pain, but isn’t it dangerous to give children of this young age pain medication?

  • chase w.

    chase w.

    April 23rd, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    I remember when my daughter was an infant and she was jaundiced we had to take her to have bilirubin checked and they would stick the bottom of her foot. I know that it hurt because she cried and cried and let me tell you that just killed me. So if anyone would say that this did not hurt a baby they are wrong because i have witnessed it first hand.

  • Yuri


    April 24th, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    Not sure how I feel about this. Certainly we don’t want children to be in pain any more than an adult should be, but at the same time you have to look at the long term effects and determine if it is better to look for other methods of pain control or relief besides medications.

  • PLee


    April 24th, 2015 at 7:24 PM

    I have been told since I was first pregnant & had friends who were pregnant (40+ years ago) that newborns’ pain receptors weren’t fully enough developed for them to experience pain as an adult or even an older child. There was no research cited, but since it was medical professionals stating it, we didn’t question. Today, I’m certain this was why parents weren’t allowed to be present for a circumcision. Can you even imagine?!?

  • Colton


    April 25th, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    I don’t think that the intention would have ever been there to let babies be allowed to be in pain and to hurt, but I also think that it is good to stick with doctors who are keeping up with the current line of thought. And if the evidence is now there that babies do feel pain just like adults can, then I want to have a doctor for my child who is mindful of that and who is willing to do what they need to do when necessary to make my child feel the most comfortable and taken care of. I don’t think that there is a parent alive who would want to see their child hurt in any situation, that’s why I think that it is important to keep this issue alive and have more research done,

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