Background: Acute pain is a significant stressor for preterm infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICU); however, little is known about the effects of acute pain on subsequent motor responses during clusters of tactile handling.
Aims: (1) To compare facial, body and heart rate reactivity in preterm infants at 32 weeks gestational age (GA) during routine care-giving tasks following a rest period (RCC: diapering, measuring abdominal girth and axillary temperature, mouth care) with their responses to Clustered Care following blood collection (PCC). (2) To examine how GA at birth affects patterns of stress and self-regulatory behaviors during RCC and PCC.
Study design: Within-group crossover design (random order).
Subjects: Preterm infants, N=54 (mean GA at birth 29.3 +/- 2.2 weeks; mean birth weight 1257 +/- 423 g) were assessed at 32 weeks GA in the NICU.
Outcome measures: The Newborn Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) and Neonatal Facial Coding System (NFCS) were coded from continuous bedside video recordings. Changes in mean heart rate (HR) were computed using custom physiologic software.
Results: All infants had heightened facial, body and HR responses when CC followed a painful procedure compared to when they had not been handled prior to CC. Infants born at earlier GA (<30 weeks) had equal numbers of stress cues during RCC and PCC, but dampened self-regulatory behaviors during PCC.
Conclusion: Prior pain induces heightened biobehavioral reactivity in preterm infants during subsequent tactile procedures. In addition, clustering care is particularly stressful for infants born at earlier GA.