Effectiveness of oral sucrose and simulated rocking on pain response in preterm neonates

Pain. 1997 Aug;72(1-2):193-9. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(97)00033-x.


Feeding and carrying have been interventions used by caregivers throughout history in relieving distress in infants. Recent studies on the food substance sucrose have elucidated the comforting effect of the taste component of feeding while studies of rocking have examined the comforting effect of the vestibular component of carrying. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of sucrose and simulated rocking alone and in combination on diminishing pain response in preterm neonates undergoing routine heelstick procedure in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Preterm infants (n = 85) between 25-34 weeks post-conceptual age (PCA) and 2-10 days postnatal age (PNA) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions for routine heelstick procedure. The conditions were (1) sucrose alone: 0.05 ml of 24% sucrose was placed on the anterior surface of the tongue just prior to the lancing of the heel; (2) simulated rocking alone: 15 min prior to and during the heelstick procedure, the infant was swaddled and put on an oscillating mattress; (3) combination of sucrose and simulated rocking; and (4) placebo: 0.05 ml sterile water administered just prior to heelstick. Physiological (heart rate) and behavioural (facial actions) responses from baseline across 90 s following heelstick were scored second-to-second. Facial actions were analysed with repeated measures MANCOVA and heart rate with repeated measures ANCOVA. Behavioural state and gestational age were covariates. The groups that received sucrose alone or in combination with simulated rocking showed less facial actions indicative of pain than the rocking alone or control group. The addition of rocking to the sucrose condition tended to further blunt the facial expression of pain, but this enhancement did not reach a significant level. Heart rate was not decreased by any intervention compared to the control condition. Although the simulated rocking did promote quiet sleep, which has been reported in earlier studies to blunt pain response, there was no difference between simulated rocking and control groups in either facial expressions indicative of pain or heart rate. The implication of these results is that sucrose, but not simulated rocking may be a means of diminishing pain from minor procedures in preterm infants. Further research is needed on the use of sucrose for more than one procedure as well as examining the contact component of natural rocking, as opposed to simulated rocking.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Motion*
  • Pain Management*
  • Sucrose / pharmacology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Sucrose