Pain in the preterm neonate: behavioural and physiological indices

Pain. 1993 Mar;52(3):287-299. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(93)90162-I.


The impact of invasive procedures on preterm neonates has received little systematic attention. We examined facial activity, body movements, and physiological measures in 56 preterm and full-term newborns in response to heel lancing, along with comparison preparatory and recovery intervals. The measures were recorded in special care and full-term nurseries during routine blood sampling. Data analyses indicated that in all measurement categories reactions of greatest magnitude were to the lancing procedure. Neonates with gestational ages as short as 25-27 weeks displayed physiological responsivity to the heel lance, but only in the heart rate measure did this vary with gestational age. Bodily activity was diminished in preterm neonates in general, relative to full-term newborns. Facial activity increased with the gestational age of the infant. Specificity of the response to the heel lance was greatest on the facial activity measure. Identification of pain requires attention to gestational age in the preterm neonate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Gas Monitoring, Transcutaneous
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn*
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Respiration


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen