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One of the most challenging things about parenting a sick or hurt infant is that they aren’t able to verbalize their pain. Sure they can cry, but even toddlers that can speak can sometimes have a difficult time explaining where they’re hurting, and more importantly, just how bad the pain is. Now scientists have developed a new way to understand what babies are feeling.

A pediatric research team at the University of Oxford in the UK has found a new method to gauge pain using brain activity. Lead researcher Caroline Hartley and her team have discovered common pain patterns in brain scans taken of newborns. Using electrical sensors on babies heads called EEGs, the researchers were able to observe potentially painful activity that occurs during regular infant care, like a heel prick for a blood test.

They noted changes in the brain patterns for babies who were given an analgesic gel before the prick versus those that weren’t. The gel reduced the indication of pain. They also found that nearly 40 percent of babies showed no outwards indication of pain, like crying, despite the fact that the brain activity showed that they were experiencing pain. The scientists hope to use this information to develop better ways of treating pain in babies in the future.

Do you have a difficult time gauging your baby’s discomfort? Share your thoughts on this study in the comments.