Neonatal facial and cry responses to invasive and non-invasive procedures

Pain. 1990 Sep;42(3):295-305. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(90)91142-6.


Evaluation of pain in neonates is difficult due to their limited means of communication. The aim was to determine whether behavioural reactions of cry and facial activity provoked by an invasive procedure could be discriminated from responses to non-invasive tactile events. Thirty-six healthy full-term infants (mean age 2.2 h) received 3 procedures in counterbalanced order: intramuscular injection, application of triple dye to the umbilical stub, and rubbing thigh with alcohol. Significant effects of procedure were found for total face activity and latency to face movement. A cluster of facial actions comprised of brow bulging, eyes squeezed shut, deepening of the naso-labial furrow and open mouth was associated most frequently with the invasive procedure. Comparisons between the 2 non-invasive procedures showed more facial activity to thigh swabbing and least to application of triple dye to the umbilical cord. Acoustic analysis of cry showed statistically significant differences across procedures only for latency to cry and cry duration for the group as a whole. However, babies who cried to two procedures showed higher pitch and greater intensity to the injection. There were no significant differences in melody, dysphonation, or jitter. Methodological difficulties for investigators in this area were examined, including criteria for the selection of cries for analysis, and the logical and statistical challenges of contrasting cries induced by different conditions when some babies do not always cry. It was concluded that facial expression, in combination with short latency to onset of cry and long duration of first cry cycle typifies reaction to acute invasive procedures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Crying*
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Disinfection
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn / psychology
  • Injections
  • Observer Variation
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Umbilical Cord