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Despite clear evidence that newborns feel pain, most premature infants are given no analgesics in hospitals, even though they are regularly subjected to painful procedures, a new study reports.

Writing in the current Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers said that only about a third of infants studied had received appropriate pain control while they were in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The researchers, led by Dr. Dick Tibboel of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that on average the 151 infants studied underwent more than 14 procedures  each day.

These included having tubes placed down their throats, needles stuck into their heels to draw blood, catheters inserted in veins and frequent suctioning of the nose and throat.

A co-author of the study, Dr. Kanwaljeet S. Anand of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that if anything the situation was worse in the United States.

The pain, he said, is unnecessary.

"There are a number of things that could be done," he said, "but in order to get those started up, one has to acknowledge that pain occurs frequently."

Some doctors shy away from giving narcotic painkillers to babies because debate remains about the possible addictive properties. The study, however, recommends that doctors consider using them more often for infants who need respiratory support. Doctors can also take simple steps to reduce pain, Dr. Anand said, including giving topical anesthetics or even concentrated sucrose solutions.

[Despite this acknowledgement of pain in preemies, abortion supporters continue to insist that any discussion of fetal pain in abortion-even partial birth abortion-is irrelevant. N V. RN;
NYT: 18November03, By ERIC NAGOURNEY ]