Comprehensive description of newborn distress behavior in response to acute pain (newborn male circumcision)

Pain. 2004 Feb;107(3):242-255. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2003.11.006.


One of the most difficult challenges still facing researchers and clinicians is assessing pain in the newborn. Behaviors provide one of the most promising avenues for deepening our fundamental understanding of complex phenomenon like newborn pain, and are key to developing descriptive-level knowledge to further newborn pain assessment efforts. In this ethologically based research, we report on the duration and frequency of neonatal distress behavior to seven distinct noxious and non-noxious but distress-provoking events including baseline (diaper change, post-diaper change, application of arm and leg restraints, post-application of arm and leg restraints, circumcision, post-circumcision) associated with newborn surgical pain. Approximately 67 min of videotaped data, involving four neonates who had undergone newborn male circumcision, were coded at 1-s intervals (4010 s in total). A reliably established coding scheme was used to code behaviors as they were observed on videotape for the duration of the seven designated events. This led to the identification of (1) 40 distress behaviors as they occurred along the continuum of distress, (2) eight distress behaviors specific to surgery, (3) 11 classes of behaviors occurring within the five sub-phases of circumcision, and (4) a description of 25 distinct post-distress behaviors. Findings support the ability to distinguish distress behaviors specific to pain and the ability to detect prolonged distress as well as individual differences in distress-related pain expression. Findings also justify ongoing use of ethological approaches to further newborn pain assessment and to investigate poorly understood topics such as infant self-regulation within the context of pain (pain recovery).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Circumcision, Male / adverse effects*
  • Demography
  • Humans
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neonatal Nursing / methods
  • Neonatal Nursing / statistics & numerical data
  • Observation / methods
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement* / classification
  • Pain Measurement* / methods
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tape Recording