If you think babies express pain simply by crying, you are wrong. They often display discomfort through body movements and facial expressions only, according to a new study.
Researchers in Britain have found that although they may or may not cry, babies do show pain by grasping, flexing their arms and legs, arching their back and splaying their fingers as well as a range of facial expressions.
According to the researchers, the work could help not only doctors but eventually parents to use physical clues to establish if and how much pain babies are experiencing.
"Although our study was small, it does raise concerns about the tools normally used by doctors to establish whether a baby is feeling pain. Infants may appear to be pain free, but may, according to brain activity measurements, still be experiencing pain.
"It would be exciting to explore whether measures of brain activity could complement current methods for measuring pain in infants," lead author Rebeccah Slater was quoted by 'The Daily Telegraph' as saying.
Dr Slater and colleagues at University College-London came to the conclusion after monitoring the brain activity in 12 babies, some of whom were born prematurely, when they were having a painful medical procedure.
They found changes in facial expression, including a grimace, squeezing eyes shut and furrowing the brow, were best indicators the baby was in pain. But some showed brain changes associated with pain but no physical sign, raising concerns doctors could be underestimating discomfort in these children.
She said that relying on a baby's cry may not be the best way to establish pain, especially in premature or very young babies in hospital.
"Babies do cry when they are in pain, but they also cry when they are cold, hungry, tired and stressed. So, just because a baby is crying it might not be in pain -- it is not a specific response to pain. Also, some babies do not cry at all when they are in pain," she added.
The study has been published in the Public Library of Science: Medicine journal.