Human touch effectively and safely reduces pain in the newborn intensive care unit

Pain Manag Nurs. 2014 Mar;15(1):107-15. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2012.06.007. Epub 2012 Sep 6.


This was a feasibility pilot study to evaluate the efficacy of the nonpharmacologic pain management technique of gentle human touch (GHT) in reducing pain response to heel stick in premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Eleven premature infants ranging from 27 to 34 weeks' gestational age, in a level III NICU in a teaching hospital, were recruited and randomized to order of treatment in this repeated-measures crossover-design experiment. Containment with GHT during heel stick was compared with traditional nursery care (side lying and "nested" in an incubator). Heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and cry were measured continuously beginning at baseline and continuing through heel warming, heel stick, and recovery following the heel stick. Infants who did not receive GHT had decreased respiration, increased heart rate, and increased cry time during the heel stick. In contrast, infants who received GHT did not have decreased respirations, elevated heart rates, or increased cry time during the heel stick. No significant differences were noted in oxygen saturation in either group. GHT is a simple nonpharmacologic therapy that can be used by nurses and families to reduce pain of heel stick in premature infants in the NICU.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / nursing*
  • Acute Pain / therapy*
  • Blood Specimen Collection / adverse effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neonatal Nursing / methods*
  • Pain Management / nursing*
  • Phlebotomy / adverse effects
  • Pilot Projects
  • Touch*
  • Treatment Outcome