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Cry-babies demonstrate 'sweet' dispositions.

Cry-babies demonstrate 'sweet' dispositions

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but only a few drops of sugar-sweetened water quell the crying of new-born babies longer and more effectively than a pacifier does, a new study reports. Its authors found a small dose of sugar water also reduces crying and apparently eases pain among newborns undergoing medical procedures, such as blood collection and circumcision.

"You can't help but be struck by the power of the babies' reactions to such a small amount of sugar," says psychologist and study director Elliott M. Blass of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Blass and colleagues Barbara A. Smith and Thomas J. Fillion, both of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, studied healthy 1- to 3-day-old infants in a quiet hospital-nursery room. Crying -- encompassing the spectrum from full-throated cries to whimpers -- first was monitored for 5 minutes among 16 babies. The infants cried for an average of 2 minutes. Then the researchers orally administered 0.1 milliliters (about the size of a teardrop) of either a 14 percent sucrose solution or sterilized water to the babies through the tip of a syringe, once a minute for 5 minutes.

The sucrose solution virtually eliminated crying while it was administered and for 5 minutes afterward, the researchers report in the September DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY. Water failed to reduce crying.

In a second study, groups of eight infants received the same dose of 14 percent sucrose solution, once a minute, for 2, 6, or 10 minutes. Additional groups received a pacifier gently held in their mouths for 2, 6, 10 or 14 minutes.

Again, the sugar solution nearly eliminated crying, even in the 2-minute group, and its effect lasted for 5 minutes after the test ended. Pacifiers reduced crying to a lesser degree, and crying resumed within 1 or 2 minutes of pacifier removal.

A third study found that infants who ingested a sucrose solution through a pacifier cried far less than those who sucked a pacifier that delivered water.

And in a report that will soon appear in PEDIATRICS, Blass and a co-worker report substantial reductions in crying during and following a standard blood-collection technique (which involves pricking the heel) and circumcision. The 2- to 3-day-olds in this study received 2 milliliters of 14 percent sucrose solution orally just before the procedures.

"babies given sucrose still cried, but they cried about half as much as those given unsweetened water," Blass notes.

Sucrose's sweet taste, independent of the introduction of a chewable plastic syringe or pacifier, calms newborns, he asserts. Combined with previous animal studies, the data suggest that sucrose-induced calming reflects activation of natural opioids in the brain, Blass maintains. For example, both morphine and sucrose infusions increase pain thresholds and reduce distress cries in 10-day-old rats; naltrexone, a substance that blocks opioid receptors and thus interferes with morphine's effects, similarly suppresses sucrose's ability to soothe.

To further explore the opioid theory, Blass and his associates plan to conduct sucrose experiments with newborn babies of heroin-addicted mothers. If the theory holds up, these opioid-tolerant infants should prove less susceptible to sucrose-induced calming than non-addicted infants.

However, while the physiological mechanisms behind a pacifier's calming effect remain unclear, Blass expects pacifiers should work just as well with addicted and non-addicted newborns.

These findings are still too preliminary to suggest whether a few drops of sugar water might help frazzled parents calm a squalling baby, Blass says. However, he and Cornell colleagues plan to study the reactions of irritable babies given a few drops of sucrose solution.
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Title Annotation:small amounts of sugar water effective at stopping crying
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 13, 1990
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