When communicating with parents, babies don't have many options beyond screaming and laughing.
Thanks to researchers at the University of Oxford, we now know babies feel pain even more intensely than adults do.
Using 10 infants six days old or younger and an equal number of adults between the ages of 23 and 36, the team conducted MRI scans while poking sleeping infants with a rod that reportedly felt much like the dull end of a pencil.
When prodded on the bottoms of their feet, the children – asleep in the scanner – showed activity in 18 out of the 20 regions that were active in adult brains during a similar experiment.
There's one caveat, however: Adults' thresholds for pain are about four times greater than those of babies.
The study's results combat a school of thought that babies don't need much in the way of pain management during medical procedures.
Dr. Rebeccah Slater, the study's lead author, believes the research will have an immediate impact on healthcare for infants.
In a press statement, she said,
...obviously babies can't tell us about their experience of pain and it is difficult to infer pain from visual observations... In fact, 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.
With this newly published research, Slater and her team saved countless newborns from experiencing undue pain.