Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Mothering and Baby’s Response to Pain

on May 4, 2015

There is ongoing debate about whether the presence of the mother and/or breastfeeding helps babies cope with painful medical procedures. Thankfully this question is being studied by researchers.

A 2007 study from the Akdeniz University School of Health in Antalya, Turkey measured the heart rate, oxygen saturation levels and period of crying during routine immunizations of healthy babies.  The babies were randomly placed in four groups: breast-fed before, during or after the injection or no breastfeeding.  They noted that heart rate and oxygen saturation levels were similar in all the groups but the babies who were breastfed cried for a shorter period after the immunization.  Their conclusion: “breastfeeding, maternal holding, and skin-to-skin contact significantly reduced crying in infants receiving an immunization injection”.  A 2009 study had very similar results.


Other studies have looked at the effectiveness of giving babies a sweet-tasting solution (oral sucrose or glucose) with or without sucking as a pain modification strategy.  Because of the varying study criteria it isn’t clear what concentration, volume or method of administration of the solution would be most effective.  As breastmilk is natural sweet, and breastfeeding has been shown to reduce crying during immunizations, using an alternative sweetened substance doesn’t make sense for most breastfeeding mothers.

The Canadian Association of Pediatric Health Centres has a short video on pain reduction strategies for infant immunizations.  It was created in response to a study that found almost all (94%) YouTube videos about infant intramuscular immunization injections show the babies crying during or after the injection.   There were no videos showing breastfeeding or the use of sweet solutions and only 3% showing front-to-front holding positions during the procedure.  The CAPHC goal was to create a video which gives parents and health professionals effective strategies for making immunizations less stressful for babies (and their parents).

download (33)

Some people wonder if working to modulate infant pain from immunizations really matters as the immunization takes only a moment or two to complete.  A New York University School of Medicine study on infant rats and their mothers concluded:  “Our study shows that a mother comforting her infant in pain does not just elicit a behavioral response, but also the comforting itself modifies — for better or worse — critical neural circuitry during early brain development,”

Our babies are not young rats but the knowledge that comforting changes the way the brain develops is transferable to the developing human brain and that makes it important for human parents.

If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally


If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation at so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!





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