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Dutchess_III's avatar

Who came up with the idiotic idea that newborns can't feel pain?

Asked by Dutchess_III (27493 points ) June 28th, 2012

They used to circumcise the boys with no anesthetic, saying the babies can’t feel pain. They were saying that as early as 24 years ago, when my son was born. When the nurse told me that, I snapped that that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard! “Why do you think they flinch, pull away, and start to cry when they get poked for blood??!” I don’t usually snarl, but I was uncomfortable with what a nurse who actually believed that could do to my baby!

She kind of huffed and walked off.

Who is stupid enough to believe that?

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15 Answers

Kayak8's avatar

I have never believed it . . . actually, I wonder what we will eventually learn about the pain felt by late term babies who have surgery while still in the womb . . .

LittleLemon's avatar

This is surprising to me, as it’s the first I’ve heard of the theory.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It’s the first time I have heard this as well. When you say “They used to circumcise the boys with no anesthetic, saying the babies can’t feel pain.”, who stated this?

Is it this one instance? Could it be that the nurse never witnessed a circumcision before? Maybe that was the nurse’s way of calming worried parents that chose to have their baby circumcised?

gailcalled's avatar

From my personal experience and knowledge the Jewish Mohels used to give the infant a small cloth soaked in wine to suck on. Not sure what that did exactly, but it showed some awareness.

Symbeline's avatar

It’s apparently been a debate for centuries, but it has been proven for quite a while now that babies definitely feel pain, and, actually, to a degree a lot more severe than adults.
If you light a match and touch a baby with the fire, he will do very little to protect himself against it. An adult will quickly pull away, but a baby won’t. Something about how the brain has yet to fully develop the defense mechanism against physical pain. The baby is definitely feeling pain though. And no I haven’t done this to any baby.
A friend of mine years ago had a baby, and I was helping her wash the dishes. I accidentally dropped a little bit of hot water on the poor toddler, and he screamed like mad. He never tried to get out of the way though. He just stood there crying. Man did I ever feel bad, but it wasn’t even an injury; but case in point; babies feel pain goddamn it, newborn or not.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I guess I need some help on this one. It was a “prevailing” idea as late as 25 years ago. After I had my son, the nurse told me that. I’d heard it from others as well.

wundayatta's avatar

I think that there is a distinction between feeling pain and remembering pain. If you are under anesthesia, you might feel pain anyway. They say you can during a colonoscopy, for example. Yet, when you awake, you don’t remember, because the brain chemistry that facilitates memory doesn’t work under anesthesia.

Well, I know that baby brains aren’t developed. Few of us have any memories from before the age of three, and I have not heard anyone’s claim to having a memory from before the age of one that I find credible. Not many people claim that, anyway.

If a tree falls in a forest….

If a baby feels pain, but can’t remember it the next day, does it really feel pain? Of course, it does for the moment, but the moment soon goes away, and then, at least in a newborn, I seriously doubt there is even a memory of pain. The brain, I suspect, is not yet capable of forming long lasting memories.

And even if it could. the brain is not yet capable of creating symbols with which to store memories. Babies have no words. They have no way of conscious thinking yet. They may have unconscious means of thinking, but it is not clear to me what that would mean. It would have to happen on a very elemental, simplistic level. It would be instinctive thought, and I don’t think it would mean much, and it probably couldn’t be stored in memory.

Without memory, I don’t see how there could be meaningful pain. You might feel the pain for a moment, but it wouldn’t last and it wouldn’t rise to the level of the kind of pain we would need to be concerned about. It wouldn’t harm the baby, in other words. No pain could really harm the baby.

All we have are action that harm the body, but no lasting memory of that. Which means that we could do anything to a baby’s body and the pain would not last past the ability of pain signals to be generated. As soon as the signals die down, the pain is gone and the memory is gone.

Having said that, it seems to me that there is no reason to gratuitously put a baby through momentary pain, if we don’t have to. So anesthetic is entirely appropriate, if available.

Earthgirl's avatar

I’m familiar with this idea that runs counter to any common sense! This always amazed me. But here is the history of it.

“In the late nineteenth, and first half of the twentieth century, doctors were taught that babies did not experience pain, and were treating their young patients accordingly. From needle sticks to tonsillectomies to heart operations were done with no anaesthesia or analgesia, other than muscle relaxation for the surgery[citation needed]. The belief was that in babies the expression of pain was reflexive and, owing to the immaturity of the infant brain, the pain could not really matter.[27]
Cope[25] considers it probable that the belief arose from misinterpretation of discoveries made in the new science of embryology. Dr Paul Flechsig equated the non-myelinisation of much of a baby’s nervous system with an inability to function[citation needed]. In addition, the writings of Charles Darwin[28] expressed a belief that babies, animals, savages and the insane were incapable of experiencing pain.
It was generally believed that babies would not remember any pain that they happened to feel, and that lack of conscious memory meant lack of long-term harm. Scientific studies on animals with various brain lesions were interpreted as supporting the idea that the I sm responses seen in babies were merely spinal reflexes. Furthermore, the whole effort of relieving pain was considered futile since it was thought to be impossible to measure the child’s pain.[29]
This, coupled with a concern that use of opiates would lead to addiction, and the time and effort needed to provide adequate analgesia to the newborn, contributed to the medical profession’s continued practice of not providing pain relief for babies.”

Judi's avatar

I was such a hippie I did the Leboyer Method. He looked at birth from the babies perspective and I had my babies in a quiet dark room. He made it clear that the baby feels. This was over 30 years ago.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@wundayatta I hadn’t thought of that…I can see the merit. But still….!
@Earthgirl Thank you. It still blows my mind that “scientists” could see the evidence that the baby was in pain, and denied the obvious happening right in front of their eyes.

disquisitive's avatar

No doubt it was a pediatrician who was fed up with having to deal with hysterical new moms.

LittleLemon's avatar

@Judi That is fascinating; I’d never heard of this until now. Does promoting a “quiet” room mean that you’re discouraged from screaming during labor? I would imagine this could be difficult.

Judi's avatar

@LittleLemon , the theory is that it’s similar to hearing sounds under water your whole life and then suddenly being exposed to clanging and banging. It is startling and painful. Once the head crowned there was not any more screaming going on and a lot of whispering. I
Was to busy pushing to scream anymore anyway.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I went through LaMaze. They told us that some (male) doctor wants us women to know that labor isn’t “real” pain. WTH???

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