Often babies are born prematurely and need to spend time in NICU. Sometimes, they'll go for weeks or months undergoing medical procedures and treatments, many without anything for pain since they can be detrimental to their health and growth. Researchers from the University of Geniva (UNIGE) partnered with the Parini Hospital in Italy and the University of Valle d'Aosta and found that a mother's voice can increase a baby's oxytocin levels and help decrease their expression of pain.

The researchers looked for how to help a baby deal with pain when there is little pharmacologically that can be done due to their development risks. THey found that when moms speak to their babies during medical interventions, their baby's expression of pain went down and their oxytocin levels increased. Oxytocin is the hormone that's attached with feeling good--loved and attached with mama. It's also linked to stress and when higher levels prevail, stress levels are lower. The report will be in the journal Scientific Reports, and shows that a mother's voice and her presence with her premature baby can help reduce the impact of intense stress and pain as they are subjected to medical interventions.

Other interventions include wrapping, restraining or sugar solutions, as well as non-nutritive sucking. But studies continue to show that the presence of a mother or father can calm a child, and it's through the emotional modulations of their voices. The team looked at early vocal contact between mothers and premature babies, and the impact the mother's voice had on pain management with routine practices that go with follow-up of the babies after they're born.

They tested their hypothesis at the Parini Hospital and asked mothers of 20 premature babies to be present during the daily heel prick blood test of their children. The team said that they focused on the mother's voice first because that's the one most likely and easier to be present in the first few days of baby's life.

Over the course of three days, they compared responses to pricks without mom present, with mom present and talking and with mom present and singing. They changed the order of the different scenarios, as well as when the mother started talking or singing. They measured the intensity of the mother's voice, making sure it covered the surrounding noise of the NICU as it is often noisy due to medical devices like ventilators.

They used the Preterm Infant Pain Profile (PIPP) to see if the baby's pain decreased when in the presence of his mother. They found that the baby's pain levels dropped when their mother sang or spoke, with speaking being more calming than singing.

They also found that babies had higher levels of oxytocin when their mothers spoke, and they used a salvia test to determine this. They found that the impact of a mother's presence was a positive one, and one that could make a difference for a baby's pain level in the NICU. Parents play a protective role in this situation, and this can help a parent who may otherwise feel helpless with their child in the NICU. The team concluded this could increase attachment bonds as well, and not just make a difference in pain levels, so it can be beneficial for many reasons.