The Painful Truth About Infants and Medical Procedures

Infants who are not provided anesthesia during surgical and other procedures can experience severe pain that can lead to long-term damage. Less than 35% of infants undergoing potentially painful medical procedures including chest intubation and circumcisions in the United States receive analgesics during treatment. This creates unnecessary pain and suffering that can hinder a child’s recovery.

Lies Hidden by Outdated Logic

Infant mortality rates in the 1940’s and 1950’s led to research into the effects of anesthesia on infants. These studies concluded that the metabolic rates and circulatory systems of infants were not sufficiently developed to handle the effects of strong analgesic medication. Subsequent studies showed that infants had a significantly higher tolerance for pain than adults and did not feel pain in the same way. As a result, the medical community concluded that utilizing analgesics unnecessary. This was the common medical logic that was followed until the 1980’s. However, over the past 40 years, opinions within the medical community have begun to change and today physicians administer analgesics in approximately 60% of potentially painful medical procedures involving infants.

Technology Changes Opinions

More recent studies including the detailed study of brain scans and behavioral measures indicate that infants feel pain in many of the same ways as adults. When a painful event occurs, the same regions of the infant’s brain are activated. In fact, the response is significantly stronger and more pronounced than those in adults responding to the same stimulus indicating that infants feel pain at a lower threshold. These studies have shown that infants who are provided analgesics experience better short and long-term outcomes that infants who are not provided these drugs during painful medical procedures.

The Long-Term Effects of Painful Memories

While an infant is not going to develop specific memories of a painful event, the event is a form of medical malpractice that will imprint itself deep within their psyche. In the short-term, infants exposed to significant pain can become irritable, have sleep disturbances, and diminished immune systems which can leave them susceptible to infections and injuries. Over the long-term, they may also suffer developmental delays, emotional problems, night terrors, etc. These unseen problems can persist without treatment and counseling and have a significant impact on the individual’s health and overall quality of life.