Developmental changes in pain expression in premature, full-term, two- and four-month-old infants

Pain. 1993 Feb;52(2):201-208. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(93)90132-9.


The purpose of this study was to examine the behavioural responses of infants to pain stimuli across different developmental ages. Eighty infants were included in this cross-sectional design. Four subsamples of 20 infants each included: (1) premature infants between 32 and 34 weeks gestational age undergoing heel-stick procedure; (2) full-term infants receiving intramuscular vitamin K injection; (3) 2-month-old infants receiving subcutaneous injection for immunisation against DPT; and (4) 4-month-old infants receiving subcutaneous injection for immunisation against DPT. Audio and video recordings were made for 15 sec from stimulus. Cry analysis was conducted on the first full expiratory cry by FFT with time and frequency measures. Facial action was coded using the Neonatal Facial Action Coding System (NFCS). Results from multivariate analysis showed that premature infants were different from older infants, that full-term newborns were different from others, but that 2- and 4-month-olds were similar. The specific variables contributing to the significance were higher pitched cries and more horizontal mouth stretch in the premature group and more taut tongue in the full-term newborns. The results imply that the premature infant has the basis for communicating pain via facial actions but that these are not well developed. The full-term newborn is better equipped to interact with his caretakers and express his distress through specific facial actions. The cries of the premature infant, however, have more of the characteristics that are arousing to the listener which serve to alert the caregiver of the state of distress from pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Crying
  • Facial Expression
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Injections
  • Pain / psychology*