The effects of analgesia in the vulnerable infant during the perinatal period

Clin Perinatol. 2002 Sep;29(3):511-34. doi: 10.1016/s0095-5108(02)00018-0.


Although our knowledge of pain and its management in the perinatal period has increased, little is known about the first hours and days of life when major physiologic transition events occur. Prematurity and critical illnesses further complicate analgesic use during this time. Increased morbidity and mortality have been shown in infants receiving placebo infusions after surgery compared with infants with analgesia, highlighting the negative consequences of pain in infants. Opioids can help promote hemodynamic stability, promote respirator synchrony, and decrease the incidence of grade III & IV intraventricular hemorrhage in ventilated preterm neonates. Long-term follow-up studies suggest improved behavioral and cognitive outcomes in children given morphine infusions during NICU confinement. The necessity of fetal analgesia is dictated by the ability of the fetus to feel pain and by the adverse effects of noxious stimuli on future sensory development. Effects of drugs given to the pregnant woman on the (preterm) newborn might be influenced by decreased or absent transplacental transport, compression of the umbilical cord during delivery, or diminished blood flow in the placenta in pre-eclamptic women, resulting in higher serum concentrations. Pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism change in the last trimester, and pain sensitivity may be altered after 32 weeks of gestation. Consequently, dose and dose interval may vary considerably between neonates and within an individual during the first days of life. This subpopulation is not homogenous, and drug doses in a term neonate with a postnatal age of 2 weeks may be quite different from those at birth and are certainly different from those in a premature neonate. Size must be disentangled from age-related factors when examining developmental pharmacokinetic parameters. There are no longitudinal studies published investigating the pharmacokinetic properties of any analgesic more than once per infant. Polymorphisms of the genes encoding for the enzymes involved in the metabolism of analgesics or in genes involved in receptor expression may contribute to the large interindividual pharmacokinetic parameter variability. Polymorphism of the human mu opioid receptor has not yet satisfactorily explained pharmacodynamic variability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / methods
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Analgesics / pharmacokinetics
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Fetus / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid