Background: Sucking may reduce the manifestations of pain in newborn infants.
Objective: To examine the effect of suckling on the threshold for peripheral somatosensory responses.
Subjects and methods: Graded Von Frey filaments were applied to the heel to initiate peripheral somatosensory responses (withdrawal reflex and gross body movements) in term infants.
Results: Dummy sucking increases the somatosensory threshold, but breast feeding had a more marked effect, increasing the threshold of the flexion withdrawal reflex (p⩽0.002) and the threshold for gross body movements (p⩽0.002).
Conclusion: Peripheral sensitivity of newborn infants is considerably reduced during sucking, particularly at the breast.
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Competing interests: None declared.