Giving newborn babies sugar water during a needlestick or other painful procedures is known to ease the pain they feel, and now it seems that sugar has an ongoing calming effect, Canadian doctors have found.

"We use sugar water in babies to reduce pain from medical procedures, such as blood tests," Dr. Anna Taddio told Reuters Health. "We performed this study to see if it kept working after the procedure, when parents changed the baby's diaper."

Taddio, at the University of Toronto, and her colleagues assigned 240 babies to be given either sugar water or just water two minutes before all needle procedures performed from birth until the newborn screening test about 24 hours later.

As described in the medical journal Pediatrics, the team assessed the babies' behavior during diaper changing after a needlestick. "Babies given sucrose were calmer than those given water, even if sucrose was given an hour beforehand," Taddio explained. "This demonstrates that the benefits of sucrose last for at least an hour."

The findings suggest that "when we give sucrose for painful procedures, we are also helping babies stay calm for other procedures that are potentially uncomfortable but don't involve a needle poke," she added.

"These results are particularly useful for hospitals looking after sick babies," Taddio commented, "as they are always looking for safe and effective ways to keep infants settled so they can heal and grow faster."