Supporting your baby through painful procedures factsheet


Medical procedures and tests can be scary and painful for babies, especially when they cannot communicate. Your baby’s treatment team will always try to make your baby feel safe and comfortable during procedures and will reduce pain as much as possible.

Parents and carers know their baby best. You can be a great support to your baby, helping them feel comfortable and safe when a medical procedure is painful or causes stress and anxiety.

 Things to consider

Babies and painful procedures

Babies experience pain and distress just like any other person, and this must be managed well. Because babies cannot communicate other than crying, they cannot tell you when they are uncomfortable or in pain.

Parents and carers need to be involved in their baby’s care and ask any questions they might have about procedures that need to be done and how the procedure will make their baby feel.


Sucrose is a sweet sugar liquid that can be given to babies up to 12 months of age during painful procedures. Sucrose can help reduce some of your baby’s pain responses like:

  • crying time
  • heart rate
  • breathing rate. 

Your baby’s treating team may give you a small plastic vial of sucrose to feed your baby during a procedure.


Breastfeeding your baby is very effective in reducing your baby’s pain response and giving them comfort. If your baby is breastfed, you will be encouraged to feed them for comfort during procedures where you are physically able to do so.

Swaddling and wrapping

Swaddling helps to calm young babies. It provides comfort and safety through gentle compression and is a good way to help manage pain and distress. Wrapping your baby during and after a procedure can help your baby to settle after experiencing pain. 

Swaddling and wrapping have been shown to help comfort babies, reducing their heart rate, and increasing their oxygen levels.

Skin-to-skin or kangaroo care

Skin-to-skin, also known as kangaroo care, is skin contact between a parent or carer and child. This is done by placing your baby naked or in a nappy, on your bare chest. Skin-to-skin contact 10-30 minutes before a procedure and 10 minutes after a procedure has been shown to help babies return their heart and breathing rates to normal levels. It also works as a tool to help with feeling connected to your baby and helps them to settle after a painful procedure.

Non-nutritive sucking

Non-nutritive sucking is when your baby uses their sucking reflex without getting any food or nutrition. This can be done using your clean pinkie finger, a dummy, or the nipple if you are breastfeeding. Non-nutritive sucking needs to be started at least 3 minutes before the start of a painful procedure. Non-nutritive sucking works best when combined with sucrose. It has been shown to significantly reduce crying and pain responses in babies.

Positioning or facilitated tucking

Positioning or facilitated tucking is when you gently position a baby with their arms and legs tucked into their body, placing them on their side. Your baby should be supported by their head and neck. This positioning can help to reduce stress-related behaviours and help to return their heart rate and oxygen levels to normal.


Singing or talking to your baby and playing relaxing music can also help them to settle and give a sense of security and comfort with familiar sounds.

Last updated Friday 15th December 2023


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024