One concern many parents have about getting their children immunized is the pain of multiple shots. Is it possible a spoonful of sugar really would help ease any pain from the needles?
Research shows it might. A recent review of studies found that a couple of drops of sugary water on a child's tongue may help reduce the pain from the sticks.
The sugar may prompt the release of chemicals in the baby's body that help relieve pain and offer comfort.
However, the researchers could not say without a doubt that the sugar helps because there is still too little research available. They said sugar treatments for reducing pain "appear promising," but more research is necessary.
The study, led by Manal Kassab, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at Jordan University of Science and Technology, involved reviewing 14 studies that included a total of 1,551 babies, aged 1 month to 1 year old. The researchers only looked at controlled trials with babies who were born at or after term (no preemies were included). Most of the studies involved immunizations, but some involved any kind of medical intervention using a needle, such as heel lances.
The majority of the studies compared babies who had been given plain water two minutes before getting the vaccine injections to babies who receive a sucrose-water solution two minutes before the shots.
The studies' findings varied, but most found that the babies who received the sugar cried for a shorter period of time after they received the shots.
Comparing results across all the studies, the babies who received sugar cried about 13.5 seconds less, on average, than babies who received only water or another placebo.
Length of time crying was the only outcome the researchers were able to compare across all the studies because there was so much variation among them.
In fact, one of the weaknesses with the overall review is that the different studies in the review used different methods to assess the baby's pain and different amounts of sugar. Since they were not consistent, it's difficult to compare them effectively.
Most of the studies were also relatively small, most involving fewer than 100 babies each.
However, the study did not find major adverse reactions to be concerned about with giving a child a sucrose solution. They did note that concerns may exist about whether using sweet-tasting liquids may contribute to long-term effects like obesity or tooth decay.
They also noted that using fructose could cause negative reactions in babies that have a fructose intolerance.
"Giving babies something sweet to taste before injections may stop them from crying for as long," Dr. Kassab said. "Although we can't confidently say that sugary solutions reduce needle pain, these results do look promising."
The study was published December 11 in the The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The research was funded internally at Jordan University of Science and Technology in Jordan with no external sources of funding. Three of the authors of this review were also authors of one of the studies included in the review.