The low tactile threshold in preterm infants when they are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), while their physiological systems are unstable and immature, potentially renders them more vulnerable to the effects of repeated invasive procedures. There is a small but growing literature on pain and tactile responsivity following procedural pain in the NICU, or early surgery. Long-term effects of repeated pain in the neonatal period on neurodevelopment await further research. However, there are multiple sources of stress in the NICU, which contribute to inducing high overall 'allostatic load', therefore determining specific effects of neonatal pain in human infants is challenging.

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Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine
Department of Anesthesiology

Grunau, R.E, Holsti, L, & Peters, J.W.B. (2006). Long-term consequences of pain in human neonates. Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 11(4), 268–275. doi:10.1016/j.siny.2006.02.007