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Babies Feel Pain But Why Are They Still Not Given Painkillers For Surgery?

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Several studies that support the idea that babies feel pain- and perhaps to a greater extent than adults- have been published in the 30 years that passed after it was first discovered that surgeons do not administer any pain relief medication to babies that undergo invasive procedures. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared in 1987 that it is no longer ethical to perform surgeries on babies without administering an anesthetic but why is it that some medical practitioners still refuse to believe infants can feel and remember pain?

A little over a decade ago, in 2003, a study showed that only a third of infants who undergo invasive procedures are given medicine to relieve pain. In 2014, another study showed that 60 percent of infants are still not given medications to ease their pain.

A 2015 published study performed by researchers from Oxford University and funded by Wellcome Trust titled "fMRI reveals neural activity overlap between adult and infant pain" revealed that the unpopular opinion that babies don't feel pain is actually erroneous and fatally so.

"[...] some people have argued that babies' brains are not developed enough for them to really 'feel' pain, any reaction being just a reflex - our study provides the first really strong evidence that this is not the case," Dr. Rebeccah Slater, lead author of the research, said. Dr. Slater belongs to the Department of Paediatrics in Oxford University.

Isn't It Already 2016?

Most recently, a medical practitioner who wished to remain anonymous revealed that some doctors still hold on the mistaken belief that infants don't feel pain. One doesn't even have to think too long about it to realize how distressing the situation is for the parents and, most especially, for the babies.

"I've heard doctors say that they don't believe babies-especially premature babies-feel pain the same way as adults," the anonymous nurse revealed. To be fair, neonatal doctors have caught on and try to help infants manage pain but the doctors practicing invasive procedure are the ones who reject the idea. "[The] surgeons don't like it [...] They are of the opinion that the procedure doesn't hurt [...]," the nurse added.

"I think these surgeons are not well informed about the nature of pain," Professor Kanwaljeet J. S. Anand from the Stanford University School of Medicine said.

True, administering anesthesia and some other pain medications can be dangerous. Everyone knows that one wrong move by an anesthesiologist can render a full-grown adult paralyzed for life, but to completely dismiss the fact that infants do not feel pain since their bodies are still underdeveloped is an irresponsible stance all the same. 

Do Babies Really Not Remember Pain?

Jolene Philo, a published author who experienced doctors refusing to administer pain medication to her baby first-hand says that the infants who went under the knife but received no anesthetics or pain relief medications tend to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as they grew up. This belief is corroborated by Dr. Louis Tinnin, a therapist at the Intensive Trauma Therapy Institute where Philo's son received treatment. Dr. Tinnin launched a blog about PTSD developed by adults who underwent surgery without an anesthetic as an infant and a screen caption of a portion has been embedded below since the domain is about to expire.

As with everything, the issue can be taken on a case-by-case basis but it is undeniable that there is a need to discard outdated beliefs.

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