Procedures in neonatal care

Parent touching their baby who is asleep in a cot

Find out about the medical care your baby might receive on the neonatal unit, and how you and healthcare professionals can reduce your baby’s pain and discomfort.

Your baby is being treated in a neonatal unit because they need some medical care. This will include necessary procedures that may cause them some discomfort or pain. As a parent, you have a unique and amazing ability to comfort your baby through pain and discomfort in a way that no one else can.

This pain and discomfort can be broadly split into two categories:

  • Acute procedural pain – this is the pain a baby feels for a short time during medical procedures or tests.
  • Ongoing pain, discomfort, or stress.

Acute procedural pain can happen during a procedure, for example, when a sample of a baby’s blood needs to be taken through a heel prick. Ongoing pain or discomfort can happen for a number of reasons. It could be caused by a medical condition or longer periods of stressful activity, for example, moving to a different neonatal unit.

These pages will focus on how parents and neonatal care teams can work together to comfort babies through acute procedural pain. If you would like information about how you can help manage your baby’s ongoing pain, discomfort, and stress, visit our pages about Looking after your baby on the neonatal unit.

We also look at how parents and healthcare professionals can work together to help comfort babies, and we provide suggestions for unit staff about how they can help support you.

Reducing pain and discomfort for babies on neonatal units

Managing a baby’s stress and pain is very important for healthcare professionals and parents. How this is done can be different from unit to unit and between different members of staff, but three common approaches are:

  • Timing and frequency of procedures: Your baby’s care team will try to manage the number of procedures your baby experiences in a short space of time. This can help to support their sleep and brain development.
  • Providing comfort: You can make a big difference to your baby’s comfort. How much you can be involved will depend on what is happening to and around your baby.  There are lots of ways you can be involved in your baby’s care and help to comfort them around their procedures.
  • Medication: Your baby’s care team will make decisions about medication but sometimes you will be able to help by describing how you think your baby is responding to medication.

In this video Professor Rebeccah Slater explains her research into the role of parents in their baby's medical procedures. This video features a mother, Brenda discussing her experience on the neonatal unit and Dr Maria Cobo, a postdoctoral researcher discussing the importance of this research into the benefits of parental touch for babies in neonatal care.

FAQs and Quick Guide

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The information in this section is due for review November 2026