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Front Psychol. 2019 Apr 2;10:715. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00715. eCollection 2019.

Pain, Parental Involvement, and Oxytocin in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

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Division of Development and Growth, Department of Paediatrics, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Neuroscience of Emotion and Affective Dynamics Laboratory, Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Social Sciences, University of Valle d'Aosta, Aosta, Italy.
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institute for Cellular and Integrative Neurosciences, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France.
INSERM U1141 Protect, Paris-Diderot University, Paris, France.
Division of Neonatology and Paediatric Intensive Care, Department of Paediatrics, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Universtiy of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Service de Médecine et Réanimation Néonatale, Hôpital de Hautepierre, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France.


Preterm infants (PTI) typically experience many painful and stressful procedures or events during their first weeks of life in a neonatal intensive care unit, and these can profoundly impact subsequent brain development and function. Several protective interventions during this sensitive period stimulate the oxytocin system, reduce pain and stress, and improve brain development. This review provides an overview of the environmental risk factors experienced by PTI during hospitalization, with a focus on the effects of pain, and early maternal separation. We also describe the long-term adverse effects of the simultaneous experiences of pain and maternal separation, and the potential beneficial effects of maternal vocalizations, parental contact, and several related processes, which appear to be mediated by the oxytocin system.


early contact; early separation; pain; parents; prematurity

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