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Do Newborns Need Sugar Water for Pain Relief?

baby in bassinet

“Wait, what is that?”

That’s what came out of my mouth, in a nicely polite voice.

In my head, I ninja-chopped the nurse’s hand, sending whatever she was trying to feed my 12-hour-old newborn flying across the room, and cried in my fiercest mama bear voice, “Don’t put anything in my baby’s mouth without my full and informed conseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeent!”

The nurse explained in a nonchalant voice, “Oh, it’s just sugar water. Research shows it helps manage the pain of the heel poke.”

“Oh, no, thank you,” I said.

Ninja-chopping in my head again.

Not 60 seconds before, the pediatrician giving Baby Jonathan a check-up had detailed some facts about the Vitamim K shot, including how K is created in our systems by the bacteria in our guts. He explained that newborns are born with zero gut bacteria, and over the first week of life, the gut is populated by the bacteria that will reside there as the child’s natural flora.

I thought, “Seems pretty important what Mom eats while breastfeeding. More yogurt!”

It makes absolutely no sense to me to give an 8-pound infant sugar, when he’s only getting a teaspoon or two per meal in colostrum. I’m all about helping my darling avoid pain, but to risk feeding the bad bacteria with sugar in a completely empty gut is a risk I’m not willing to take.

Besides that, John slept without a single peep through the entire heel-poke-squeezing-out-blood-for-two-full-minutes experience.

So I guess he didn’t really need the sugar water.

More ninja-chopping, just because it’s fun to visualize.

Why is White Sugar Bad for You, anyway?

Twelve hours later, I was ready to decline what I learned is called Sweet-Ease (which sounds just like “Sweeties,”) the routine administration of sucrose (white sugar) and water to my newborn when he had another heel poke.

It just goes to show that even when you have a pretty strict birth plan in place and think you’re ready for everything, you still should keep your newborn with you at all times and don’t be afraid to ask, “What is that?” if something is happening that you don’t understand.

I don’t want anything going into my newborn’s mouth or bloodstream without understanding exactly what it is and what it’s for.

Just keep the ninja chopping in your head, okay?

What do you think about this relatively new “routine?” Worth it, dangerous, or somewhere in between?

UPDATE: I can’t expect you to read through all the comments, but there’s some pretty wild discussion down there, from the folks who think I’m crazy to even question my child’s pain, plenty of agreement, a few that say I’m a mean person who would actually hit nurses, and then a nurse with 33 years’ experience who references an article that shows sugar doesn’t work and may cause damage. You should definitely read that one.

I’ve written a letter to our hospital questioning the procedure, or at least encouraging them to require parental consent, and I’m eagerly awaiting their reply.

See my full disclosure statement here.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.
Category: Research

111 thoughts on “Do Newborns Need Sugar Water for Pain Relief?”

  1. Thank you for clarifying for people. I work in the CICU at a children’s hospital and am very well aware of the necessities of sometimes giving Sweet-ease. I am all about eating whole foods and minimizing everything processed etc and going “back to natural ways,” however, I have been blessed with very healthy children and it’s easy to judge when you don’t really understand what something is used for. Thank you again for helping people understand that nurses and drs aren’t just randomly dumping things into babies or kids.

  2. There seems to be some confusion.Sweet-ease is sucrose water that either the pacifier is dipped into or can also be given with a syringe and is to be used for painful procedures such as IV placement,lumbar puncture(needle in a spine) or during a circumcision. I am surprised that it is being used for routine newborn screening.It does have an analgesic effect.As a NICU nurse of 30 years I am thrilled that medicine finally recognized that neonates do in fact feel pain and that it needs to be treated.Katie you should perhaps read up on the medical literature about why this method was developed before going off on a tirade.There are a lot of good reasons that Sweet ease is available and used and you do a disservice to freak people out about something you really haven’t studied.Fortunately there there were a few replies from people
    with ill infants that understand that it wasn’t some evil conspiracy but has a real place for some situations.I don’t think that you have a clue that neonatal pain did not used to be treated as in surgery.
    Sweet ease is not the same as “sugar water” which would be in a regular baby bottle and I wasn’t even aware it still existed!We don’t even stock it at our hospital.If your baby has low blood sugar ,if you are unable to nurse ,the baby will be given formula to increase the blood sugar(unless it is so drastically low that an emergency infusion of sugar must be given immediately)to give the baby a chance to raise the blood sugar.If the blood sugar does not normalize with formula or breast milk then the baby will have to have an IV sugar water infusion.Baby’s brains depend on glucose more than an adult’s so if the glucose is too low for too long than brain damage will occur.If a person becomes diabetic during pregnancy it is very important to control your blood sugar.Why?If your blood sugar is too high the baby will be receiving too much glucose so will start producing large amounts of insulin.Then when baby is born the high levels of glucose from Mom are gone but baby’s body is still kicking out high levels of insulin so the baby really needs some glucose right away.
    Also the Med Tech is right about the 48 hours-for the PKU(metabolic testing)but if you live in Delaware the test is done 2 times -so it will be repeated anyway.Don’t know if the mandatory repeat is any other states.
    BTW I would never skip the Vit K shot-not worth the risk of a brain hemmorhage.

    1. Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker

      I had gestational diabetes with my most recent pregnancy, and my baby’s blood sugar was slightly lower than they wanted it at birth, so they asked I preferred they give her donor milk (in a cup) or formula. I chose donor milk.

      I refused the Hep B but not the Vit K shot. I honestly didn’t research it enough before my baby was born. However, a week before she was born, my best friend gave birth to her first child, and he has a blood clotting disease called hemophilia. If he had not had the Vit. K shot, he could have died.

      It’s such a hard call!

    2. Jean,
      Thank you for the educational background. I am an OB nurse and was trying to come up with a way to say this very information.

      1. Your welcome. I was just dumbstruck that anyone could think that it was funny to want to hit a nurse for trying to provide comfort to a neonate during a painful procedure ,although having read the snarky things Katie has written about her inlaws it is perhaps not surprising-she is pretty sure that she knows everything.I never gave birth in a hospital and my children never had so much as a drop of formula ,so believe me I am not unsympathetic about what happens in a hospital,BUT Katie has not read any real literature on the subject and yet feels that she can make pronouncements such as the bacteria in her child’s intestine will be altered by the Sweet ease. Well actually since it is absorbed right away it never reaches the intestine.It is also a very,very small amount.It is obvious that most of the readers who responded have NO idea how very recently it has been that pediatric and neonatal pain has begun to be treated.For ex less than 20 years ago I had to make a scene in the ER when the plastic surgeon just wanted to strap her to a board to sew up her face!Circumcisions until fairly recently were done with no pain control what so ever-it is a surgical procedure!Breastfeeding is lovely but a)not everyone can or wants to and b)there are many painful procedures that a baby just can’t be nursed through because it is too sick or logistically it is not possible.

        1. Sure, but shouldn’t the default be breastfeeding for comfort and then in special situations something else if necessary? I think that the appalling thing is not that the nurses are doing what they always do, but that our society is so breastfeeding clueless that it wouldn’t be the obvious default to say “get ready to nurse this baby when I prick his foot” to a woman who is known to be breastfeeding and has a healthy baby. Right? I mean it is less work and costs less money to do that.

        2. I hardly think name calling is appropriate here. If you don’t like the things that Katie writes, you don’t have to read them.

    3. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Thank you for helping us all understand a bit more about the science behind the medicine and particularly neonatal pain management. It’s always my goal here at Kitchen Stewardship to create a community wherein we can learn from one another and create a knowledge base while supporting each other.

      This post was simply my story. My only experience with sweet-ease was its routine administration during a heel poke, so that’s what I detailed. I can certainly see where it would have its advantages, such as the story above about the spinal tap and the hour long blood draw where the mother couldn’t nurse.

      I did ask the nurse the second time around if it was just sucrose, white sugar, and water, and she said it was, so I had no reason to believe anything differently. I kind of wanted to read the ingredients on the little package myself but refrained so she wouldn’t think I was totally nuts.

      I admit daily that I do NOT know everything, so I’m hoping you’ll help us out with one more thing: you say my assumption that anything that went into my newborn’s mouth would affect his gut is wrong. Can you explain the difference between this sweet-ease and sugar water, and why it doesn’t reach the child’s gut at all?

      I hope I addressed all your concerns – perhaps my post from this week will help ease your angst about my in-laws as well:

      Thanks for participating in the discussion,

      1. Katie, I do not have time now to look up specifics, but are you not aware that some things taken by mouth can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin in the mouth, without getting down to the gut? Anything that works quickly is working that way. Think about alcohol: If its intoxicating effect came only from digesting it, you would not feel anything until at least 20 minutes after you start drinking. But in fact, most people begin to feel a “buzz” much sooner than that. I quit drinking except for Communion years ago, and now that one mouthful of wine gives me a noticeable brain sensation before I get back to the pew–and it’s over in 5 minutes or less. I bet the effect of the sugar-water is similar.

        But it’s too bad Jean didn’t follow up with more information, since she clearly knows more about it than I do!

      2. I am a board certified pediatrician who fully subscribes to soaking grains, lactofermenting, raw milk etc but this post about sugar water was a little over the top for me too and I appreciate Jean’s input. What upsets me is the “karate chopping” in your head, though I know it was supposed to be a joke. I see mothers come in all the time fully convinced that they have it all together and I’m out to somehow harm them and their babies. Regardless of the science, would 3 drops of sugar water in your baby’s gut have destroyed his health and future? Probably not. What is more lasting is the arrogance that comes across your face when interacting with a lady who is just going to work to be a nurse and try to help people. Granted I didn’t see your face that day but if you’re karate chopping her in your mind, it’s probably not a kind look on your face. I suggest the article “Can healthy living become an idol?” at this link. Again, I understand the importance of protecting our babies and natural living but sometimes we need to take a deep breath and realize God is in charge and there are bigger things in life.

        1. Eve,
          I assure you, both nurses who had the sugar water ready to go wouldn’t have seen anything but surprise and then meekness (it’s never easy saying “no” in person) on my face. Remember, I did resist the urge to even read the contents of the packet, so clearly I wasn’t a mama bear on a mission, just someone surprised by a new-to-me procedure.

          I’ve read Lindsay’s article and certainly agree that we can go overboard, but even for my son’s upcoming circumcision, the nurses readily said I could bring a bottle of expressed breastmilk for the exact same purpose/end result as the Sweet-Ease.

          1. Hi Katie,

            I am curious to hear your thoughts on your choice to circumcise. I’ll be honest, I was kind of surprised reading this. It seems not in keeping with you and the nature of your blog. Love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!

            1. Mareth,
              We’ve been all over on this one:
              1. I knew I didn’t want to, but DH did because of locker room emotional pain. I didn’t have the energy to look into it. So we were going to.
              2. We didn’t get the Vit K shot so he couldn’t get circ’d in the hospital. We started to reconsider, esp. with the stat that 25% of John’s generation will be uncircumcised.
              3. A close friend who was uncirc’d had a horrible infection and had to get surgery as an adult. We went back to scheduling the appt. b/c of his advice that he wd circ his sons if he ever has any.
              4. Hospital quoted $3800 for circ. We wondered again…
              5. Stats say that infections and cancer are higher in uncirc boys. Sooo…b/t that and no. 1 and no. 3, the appt has been scheduled (for <$500 – pays to shop around).

              That's the beginning and the end of that issue…but I'm still very very nervous about how John will do with the surgery and hope he doesn't stop being an angel baby!

              1. If a close friend had a horrible time with an appendectomy, would you get your baby’s appendix removed now just in case he might get appendicitis later? The foreskin can prevent problems, too, like it did for my son.

                Here is a great article about how to address men’s “locker room” concerns.

                I hope you can win this argument. To me, it seems bizarre to let your son have major surgery on a very sensitive body part for no good reason, while freaking out about his ingesting a few drops of sugar water.

              2. {{{hugs}}} to you, dear Katie. Such a tough decision!

                My first one was circ’d because dad was. 2nd son was circ’d becuz brother was. 3rd son, i finally ‘woke up’, so we refer to him as our ‘experiment’.

                I, too, bought in to the argument that ‘so many’ men have trouble if they are not circ’d or that uncirc’d are more prone to cancer.

                Then I looked at how the Good Lord made us. Yes, in the old testament, the Jews were to be circ’d. But Paul welcomed those uncirc’d in to the faith w/o a requirement to be circ’d. That was good enough for me.

                That being said, my #2 DS was circ’d at the doctor’s office, with me holding him at day 8, like in the Bible. It was a terrible day, but he ‘did fine’…

                Another mommy… <3

              3. Thank you, Katie, for responding. Oh I sure hope you and hubby really consider this one some more. I have to agree with the two gals above. There are some great, succinct websites out there with good info, too, so you could quickly get the info you need. I am surprised that your doc is allowing you to wait to do the circ. (I’ve just never heard of waiting over a month). At this point I would be even more concerned about his emotional pain and withdrawal, and nursing problems. Proper care of the uncircumcised penis is important as the child ages and rather easy to handle. Complications can occur with circ.s, which is frightening, too. If he ever wanted to change it later he would be able to make that choice for himself. This truly deserves consideration for HIS benefit and well being. And God did make your little boy’s body that way. :o)

                1. Well, Mareth/Becca/Karen,
                  Guess what? You all did it. We reopened the issue, did a little more research, and came to the conclusion that we simply cannot find a compelling reason to go forth with the circumcision. Cancelled the appt. today. I’ll write about it on the blog this week or next…
                  Thank you for participating in our seeking of God’s will for our little one!
                  🙂 Katie

                  1. Yay, I am so happy to hear this news!! When things settle down for both of us we need to get together!

  3. I totally LOVED my freestanding birth center experience…no need to worry about unnecessary procedures or obtrusions or arguing with nurses. ;o)

  4. As a mom five times over, a La Leche Peer Counselor, and an advocate of exclusive breastfeeding, attachment parenting, and co-sleeping I can say that there is no need to give baby sugar water. You’re right, even the most detailed birth plan needs to monitered to see if everyone is respecting your wishes.

  5. First…love the ninja…totally fun to visualize. Second…this is rediculous…good for you for ninja chopping…I would think one could just nurse the baby through the pain and have better results…or just refuse the heel poke OR nurse after for comfort. Hospitals and doctors drive me crazy sometimes!

  6. Sugar makes pain worse. Sheesh. My sister is 45 and my Mom says they kept giving her sugar water when they’d take her so Mom could sleep to the point that she wasn’t hungry when Mom tried to nurse her. She never did catch on to nursing. They’ve been giving sugar water to infants for a long time- because it shuts them up.

  7. I am totally with you on the ninja-chopping. I did that all the time with my first and got tired of the fight and am more peaceable with my second. But I WOULD NOT let anyone feed my babies. They were strickly breastfeed to the very best of my abilities. Except for the times I didn’t see ppl giving my babies things. Like right after my first was born, I was OUT after an emergency c-section and found out later they gave him a bottle of sugar-water. I was SO upset. But still thankful for them the best they knew.

  8. As a pediatric nurse that has worked at different hospitals across the country, many hospitals do not use sweet-ease appropriately. This “medication” is to be used to ease babies that are 8 weeks and under for painful procedures, such as IV sticks and lumbar punctures. This medication however is given to children whenever they want. Some nurses will even give it to a fussy child. Parents know what it is and request it. Most of the time they are given what they ask for. This is a sad situation in pediatrics. Don’t even get me started about the food they serve in pediatric hospitals to the patients, everything is laden with high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring, but I digress. The most important thing it that parents stay with their child, and remain informed about everything that is happening to their child.

  9. I am wondering if you’ve read Weston A Price’s book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”? You can read most of it online for fre.e.

    While his main focus for the book was finding out why peoples eating their ‘traditional diet’ suffered less than 1% tooth decay (and tooth crowding), he also shared about how important it was to well-feed a to-be-mommy, while she was PG and after the birth of the baby for optimal health. Intriguing!

    1. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Haven’t yet, actually, but someday I’ll get the brain power to be up for it…

  10. Completely RIDICULOUS!!!
    I am glad that we have you on “our side” to tell us what’s really going on in some hospitals. It also makes me thankful to not have been in the hospital for my last two births!!

  11. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    Absolutely ridiculous. Sure, sucking + sweet soothes babies, but that’s what breastfeeding is for! (My older kids, who are still nursing, keep telling me how much they like the milk now because it is sweet!)

    My boys had this test done at home by a visiting nurse. I held them the whole time. Daniel barely protested, Jacob was quite unhappy. Daniel fell asleep again immediately after without needing anything. Jacob I nursed immediately after the test (which the nurse encouraged). There was no mention of needing anything else for “pain relief.”

    It’s amazing, the rationalizations they come up with in order to justify these UNNECESSARY procedures!

    1. Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker

      My 3-year-old, who weaned at 22 months, still tells me my milk tastes like strawberries! She was quite verbal when she nursed & she has never said it tasted like anything else!

    2. I just want to say that I wish you and th other readers of your blog would give the nurses the benefit of the doubt. I am an OB nurse myself and only have just begun my own walk to a healthier lifestyle. Most nurses genuinely care about their patients and truly do want to decrease the infant’s pain. It is true that the sugar water has been proven to reduce pain and in many instances the babies are taken to a central place for their tests to be done and breastfeeding is not done at the time of the tests. The nurses are not trying to come up with any “rationalizations to justify unnecessary procedures”. I feel that is a very unfair statement toward the nursing field. I realize that it is probably very overused, but please just give the nurses the benefit of the doubt.

      1. Sorry Vanessa, but good intentions do not mean that the procedures they are doing are helpful or necessary. I absolutely believe that most doctors and nurses want to do what is right. I also see that what they are doing – especially in the field of maternity and birthing – is often not supported by current evidence.

        I am sorry that you feel attacked. As mothers, our primary job is to look out for our children. Although I try to be kind and considerate while I do that, I will never put anyone’s feelings ahead of the well-being of my child.

        1. Being a nurse allows me a perspective that the general public does not have. I too agree that a some things that are done in the medical field are not necessary. However, what the general public does not understand is that a lot of what is done in the medical field has come about because of our sue-happy public or because of previous experiences (such as medical mistakes). For instance, even though I truly believe it is extremely excessive to have to inquire about a patient’s pain all the time, we are forced to do so because people have sued for inadequate pain management. So now to protect my license, I have to prove that I am managing the pain of my patients. This is just one example. I agree that it is a mother’s job to look out for our children, I am a mother to two myself. I just do not see the need for comments that accuse nurses of rationalizing unnecessary procedures. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of nurses will not do procedures/interventions they deem unnecessary unless forced to. You may disagree with some of the things done, yet you have not personally seen instances in which these interventions are helpful. So yes, I agree we all have the right to refuse procedures for our own children. However, please accept that there may be circumstances in which these interventions may be useful.

          1. Hey Vanessa,

            I hear what you are saying about having to cover your butt in the medical profession, but what I think is that a lot of the frustration parents face in hospitals comes from a lack of professional courtesy from nurses. Making assumptions about what parents want for their children feels like a slight to the parents and an undermining of their judgment. If a nurse asked me “would you prefer I give your child sugar-water to soothe her” in an impartial manner as opposed to assuming I would and not asking at all I would have no reason to be offended. She is putting the onus of the decision on me (where it belongs in this case) and acting as if I’m capable of making that decision (which I should be if I’m expected to also raise said child). I think that the nurse hatin’ is not good as mostly nurses are just doing their job (usually a good job), but sometimes the manner in which things are put does undermine parents authority. I believe that true impartiality and professional courtesy though would do a lot to soothe ruffled egos though. Parents should be able to feel like they have a support team in the hospital, not that anything they do is going to get CPS called on them.

            1. Cirelo,
              Thank you for your understanding. And what a good reminder you give me about professional courtesy. I am not making excuses, but I think that sometimes too many demands are put on nurses and as a result they focus too much on the task at hand and not the patient and family that is involved. I understand exactly what you mean about undermining the parents, as I have seen this done in practice. It is a problem, and one that you have motivated me to try to change in my own workplace. I agree, the parents should be supported in their decisions and a little bit of compassion and understanding goes a long way. Thank you again for this discussion.

      2. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

        I hope it didn’t seem as if I was disrespecting nurses! Our nurses were excellent and both times they simply put the Sweet-Ease aside without questioning me. I would have only ninja-chopped the package, not the nurse, of course. 😉

        No, really, I am certain that the nurses are just doing the procedure as it’s been taught to them, and any systemic problems (like the fact that parents really should be asked about pain relief for their children) are at a much higher level than a post-natal nurse. Thank you for reminding us all, though, that there are people behind these stories, and we ought to always be courteous and respectful.
        🙂 Katie

        1. Katie,
          I guess it was aimed more at some of the comments, not so much your post. You do give a good reminder that nothing should be taken for granted and that a parent’s wishes should always be respected (and a reminder to make sure to find out what those wishes are in the first place!). I appreciate the reminder because honestly, before starting on my own journey to healthier living, I would not have questioned the use of Sweet-ease for pain relief. I do want to say though that in my experience, it is rarely used (at least where I work) for the routine PKU/bilirubin and blood draws. I have seen it used more for the babies who are needing extensive IV’s and things like that. Thank you for your graciousness. I love your blog and genuinely enjoy the discussion in the comments.

  12. i think my midwife gave our baby some homeopathic or all natural vitamin K. gosh i usually remember details like that but i guess the post baby bliss has crowded that out of my memory.
    also i highly recommend alfalfa as well. i was borderline anemic and my doc recommended it- by the next visit my iron levels were super high and have been ever since. kinda weird b/c preg usually makes ppl anemic, and i always was a little but since then 2 kids and i have excellent iron levels nowadays. i also recommend grass fed argentinian beef liver capsules they are an excellent source of iron. also green smoothies- chlorophyll molecular-ly resembles hemoglobin so it really boosts oxygen in your blood. just blend them realllllly smooth!

  13. As a Medical Technologist, I use to do heelsticks in the nursery (in the 90s). I can tell you it varies by hospital & by even the doctors preferences. It is not something that every hospital does in every situation.
    We didn’t use sugar water when doing the heelsticks b/c 1.) Newborn screen didn’t take that long 2.) most babies slept through it & 3.) if we needed a microvial for testing we didn’t want to compromise the test values with adding something to the baby’s bloodstream that wasn’t normally there. I do know that they gave it as treatment to babies with low blood sugars when the mom wasn’t/couldn’t bf or NICU procedures that were very difficult for the preemie/newborn.
    I agree that the parents SHOULD be notified BEFORE anything is given to the baby so it can be discussed/ok’d/declined. Not to open another can of worms but 😉 – I expressly told the nurses NOT to do the newborn screen until just before baby & I left the hospital. I had them write it on my babies charts. In my state we can legally stay in the hospital 48 hrs, which is the best time to perform the newborn screening. Anything prior to 48 hours MAY not be accurate, as the baby has not been eating routinely & the baby’s body is still trying to regulate systems, establish bf, etc. This avoided my babies being stuck twice for the same test. If you are discharged prior to 48 hours, most states legally HAVE to do the test prior to discharge and then you are encouraged to return after 48 hrs old to repeat the screen. My hubby just laughed at me b/c of my “insider knowledge” of how things work in the hospital – but he was grateful for our babies sakes! 🙂

  14. Renee Harris

    Way to go, mom!
    I hope the nurse didn’t call you “honey”, especially in the condesending I-know-what-I’m-doing-so-don’t-refuse-it voice. That’s the worst.

  15. Weird – never heard of that. Definitely something that doesn’t seem like it should be used that routinely!

    I had my last two at home and plan to have this one at home too so I haven’t had to deal with such things. My midwife recommends taking alfalfa leaf capsules to boost the mom’s vit K levels which is supposed to help the baby too. She says if you do that you can skip the vit K shot.

  16. Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker

    One word: YIKES! I had never heard of this, but with two hospital births behind me, it makes me wonder what they gave my girls behind my back! Hmmmm…something ELSE to question next time around!

    Glad you refused it!

  17. just one more reason for me to feel completely lied to and used when i had my daughter! it has only been in the past five months that i have been reading your blog and learning from you and i already detest my hospital and doctors for forcing me to do things i didn’t understand and tried to figure out but was never told… oh well if i am ever able to have children again, i will be re reading everything you have written and adopting it for myself.
    thank you for all of your info!!!!!!

  18. I wonder if sugar water has anything to do with some newborns having digestive issues later on?

  19. Good for you Katie! We did a lot of ‘ninja-chopping’ during all three of our little ones’ births and hospital stays. Shoot, we still do a fair amount of ninja chopping.

  20. What? That must be new. I’ve never had sugar water (sucrose) offered to my babies. They did give my firstborn glucose water when he was born because I was diabetic and his blood sugar was too low, and he was born early and took him a while to get the hang of nursing.

  21. Almost three years ago when my son was a newborn they tried something similar. I hadn’t started on a super healthy lifestyle at that point, but even then something in me knew there was something just plain wrong with that…

  22. I had 4 preemies in the NICU who had some pretty painful (but crucial) things done and did need sugar water. It worked wonderfully in a situation that I am certain I’d want to be knocked out for (couldn’t put 2lb babies under if not 100% necessary). My milk hadn’t come in yet either. I don’t think sugar water is the best thing either, but it might have a place sometimes. I saw firsthand how much it helped my children avoid major pain.

    1. i just wonder in instance where the mother’s milk isn’t in yet, why not offer the baby pumped milk from a m ilk bank?possibly that is not always available.
      i know in our culture sugar seems pretty innocuous, but we are learning better every day. especially how sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut which can have a chain reaction of disastrous consequences on our health.
      just seems like they could come up with something better than sugar water. even a high quality formula? nix the oxidized cholesterol, HFCS, rancid soybean oil, etc.

      1. At that point my children couldn’t even drink milk by mouth — nutrients were delivered via arterial line . They could have a tiny bit of sugar water on a pacifier. There was no access to donated breast milk and formula increases the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.

        1. thank you for educating me, especially about your children’s situation- clearly I am a little ignorant of such matters. I hope I didn’t offend you, I was really just thinking “out loud” about the situation in general- obviously your situation is unique. I didn’t realize you were referring to a pacifier, either. Seems like a bit of sugar water on a pacifier isn’t so bad. I just hope our doctors really are doing what is best and not harmful for our tiniest loved ones. It is too bad we have to ask that question….

    2. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      That situation totally makes sense to me!! I’m glad your little (teeny, tiny) ones were born in our era and made it into childhood healthily. Definitely a place for medicine….
      🙂 Katie

      1. Lizi,

        No not offended at all. Certainly preemies are not the natural way of things anyway … I do think being as natural as possible makes the most sense most of the time. I just also see a place for other options when dealt an extreme situation! =) All 4 of them are just fine now and enjoying a very real food diet (just had green smoothies for breakfast)!

  23. Good for you and Jonathan! When my son was born in 2009, we didn’t let him out of our sight except during the hearing test, and my hubby stood right outside the room then. I didn’t know much about vaccines then. But what irked me was my Aunt. She has worked for an ob/gyn for 20 some years, and sent me 2 CASES of sugar water-with a note that said she knew I was breastfeeding (something that was an inconvenience she refused to do with my cousins)and sometimes babies are just thirsty and not hungry. I threw them out right away. Sometimes its hard to even make family understand the bad science behind a lot of these routines.

  24. Glad you were with him! Our hospitals (a different one for each birth) didn’t try that – but I wouldn’t have expected it! They may have just been aware of my birth plan, I dunno. Something else to warn the friends about!

  25. With my first sugar water was never offered, he refused even a pacifier from the hospital, even when hungry and I was in a morphine induced sleep (emergency c-section). My daughter, a planned c-section (before I knew better), while I was being stitched back up, they checked her blood sugars and they were low and gave her sugar water without my knowledge- my hubby knew- but is much more inclined to let the Dr’s do what they do. Not expecting, I didn’t know to tell him not to let it happen.
    In comparison, no nursing issues with my son, 2 months of painful issues with my daughter. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it felt like the first thing in her mouth messed up lots for us. We did make it through to nurse for a year and a half though.

  26. Brandis @ Crunchy Thrify Cool

    This is new? Because I know they used to do something similar so the baby would have “something to eat while mom’s milk comes in” which we now know is totally unnecessary. Where do they get these ridic. ideas??? My DD had to have heel pokes every 3 hours (which I would decline now, as I knew even then they were unnecessary but didn’t know enough to decline) and she barely cried- but they didn’t give her anything, they just put a warm compress on it to up the blood flow.

  27. Reading the description about the little packets triggered my memory- yes, my babies all probably were given the sugar water. I just didn’t know enough at the time to question it. For a few procedures, I do distinctly remember the staff having me breastfeed before (so the baby would be calm and sleepy) and after (to distract from the localized pain).
    Blood draws and checks for meningitis on a newborn- that would be so heartbreaking. 🙁 So sorry you and your little one had to endure that.

  28. Know what else helps manage pain in a newborn? Nursing! And now that I think about it, breast milk is pretty sweet. Maybe the sugar water is yet another attempt to replace natural behaviors that we have socially suppressed.

    *sigh… stepping down off my soapbox now*

    Actually, I have nursed all three of my babies through PKU’s and vaccines. Only one of them had a rough time with her PKU – she’s a fast clotter and had to be lanced twice – and I was only bitten once. That seems fair considering that I was letting a stranger stick a needle in her thigh. The rest of the times, their reactions varied from barely a glance up to popping off for one “wah” of outrage before resuming nursing.

    1. i just wanted to agree that i nursed my second baby through his PKU which was when he was a week old because he was born at home.
      nursing a brand new baby maybe doesn’t have the same effect as sugar water since your milk isn’t in yet, but it does surely provide some relief. but if you wait a few days, which my doctor assured me was TOTALLY OKAY, you can do the PKU test when your milk is in and baby isn’t hours old. just a thought….

      1. Although a mother’s milk is not in directly following birth, she is making colostrum. Also sweet (although not as sweet as breast milk), and packed with valuable nutrients and immune properties. I still cannot believe that giving baby sugar water is a better idea than the system that nature has in place. Too often we think we can sidestep that, only to find later that there are unforseen consequences (like disruption of healthy gut colonization).

        For what it’s worth, I also agree with you about delaying the PKU test. The reason it has to be repeated is that certain diseases cannot be picked up the first day of birth. I have never understood why they do it then, other than the possible fact that they want to do as much as they can while the baby is in the hospital because they are afraid parents won’t get follow-up care after they leave. If any of the nurses who are following this thread want to chime in, I would love to hear alternate opinions.

    2. Maybe the sugar water is yet another attempt to replace natural behaviors that we have socially suppressed.

      *sigh… stepping down off my soapbox now*

      LOL love it. Oh, whether people consciously realize it or not… I do think that much more than necessary, people would rather ignore truth so that they can continue, well, in blindness of what their bodies and minds are really telling them, and what they are really feeling, just for the sake of functioning in a way that is deemed ‘right’ – especially when we are pressured to do so in society, and put under stress that’s just… insane, and not really normal as compared to stressors we may have encountered in a natural setting – we’re just preoccupied with crap now, not things like what we’re eating and having the time to know how we feel, when we sleep, how long we do it and how it is making us feel too, etc. It’s a choice to rise above though!!

      1. I believe this whole-heartedly… We all want the ‘easy’ button and we don’t realize we’re not only giving ourselves away (allowing others to do our thinking for us) but we are actually setting ourselves backwards.

        I recommended reading Weston A Price’s book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” because through the studies he did, he believed that humans had just as much, if not more, intuition than animals did and we have just lost it because of our behaviors.

        How does a caterpillar know to eat this leaf, to roll up in to a cocoon, etc., outside of intuition?

        How did peoples of long ago know to eat this plant or use that part of an animal for their health if not for intuition? There certainly wasn’t internet back then, nor books, to learn about those plants and parts.

        Knowledge is power and we must be willing to learn and expand our knowledge rather than turn a blind eye and let others do our thinking…

  29. My husband went with our son everytime they took him somewhere. We refused the vit. k shot. I don’t think they offered him any sugar water. I’m sure my husband would have refused that as well. lol He was like a freaking knight with a sword at the hospital.

  30. Ugh. Yes. And be careful you’re not in the shower when they come to do it, because your husband will not have the freak out impulse necessary to prevent them from doing it, and you’ll come out o the bathroom just in the nick of time to watch them squeeze it in her little mouth. Not that I speak from experience… I tell myself it’s no big deal and won’t make any difference, and I let my son had it back when I thought that stuff didn’t matter, but it still kind of bugs me.

  31. I agree that they don’t need it. I let them give some to my son during his circumcision but now I wouldn’t after your very logical explanation about the gut bacteria. I hadn’t made that connection before. Yet one more thing to be on the watch for when we have the new baby in March. Thanks!

    1. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

      If you choose to circumcise your baby (which I don’t), wait until the 8th day. Then you don’t need to worry about sugar water or vit K or anything.

      1. We did wait, he was actually a few weeks old. It was at a military clinic though and they still offered it.

  32. for routine things, maybe not, but be thankful you have the choice. When my second was 4 weeks old I held him still as a doc put a needle in his spine to check for meningitis. Yes, we gave him sugar water, and yes it helped calm him so we could get the procedure over sooner so we could cuddle him again. He had already had blood drawn, an IV started and an MRI that day.

    1. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Absolutely, I’m incredibly thankful. What an awful day for your whole family…I can’t imagine all that done to my tiny baby. You’re right, that’s an excellent example of medicine having its place…

  33. Good job, mama! I’m sorry, I don’t have a reference for you, but I had to share. The pediatrician is only partly correct in what he told you about the gut flora and the “Vitamin K” shot. Yes, babies do not have gut flora while they are in the womb- they pick it up in the birth canal. It populates their nose and mouth as they are being born naturally. As you mentioned then, the health of the mom is vital in establishing a healthy gut in the baby (which helps determine digestion, the immune system, a healthy brain…), before, during, and after pregnancy. Healthy vagina=healthier baby.
    Also, you can give your baby a probiotic supplement powder dissolved in a bit of water when they are still very little and only breastfed to helpe establish that good bacteria.
    All three of my babies had the Vitamin K shot, but I don’t remember there being any sugar water involved. I was told the shot was to help with blood clotting. (Here’s a fascinating article about Vitamin K ).
    Now that I am pursuing a more nourishing diet, it seems to me that eating plenty of
    cooked leafy greens with pastured butter while pregnant should take care of the actual Vitamin K issue, then it is also vital for a mama to make sure she doesn’t have gut disbyois.
    The more I find out about the ingredients in vaccines, drugs, etc., the more suspect I am about EVERYTHING the medical establishment wants to prescribe. Many times they are at best ineffective and unnecessary, and at the worst, toxic with sever immediate or long-term side-effects.
    That said, I’m glad you shared about your experience and willingness to confront the staff about their unnecessary routine procedures during your labor and post-partum. It gives me confidence, should I have a hospital birth again. 🙂
    Blessings to you and your little one!

    1. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

      My second and third babies didn’t have vit K. They had their PKU tests at 4 – 5 days old (before natural vit Kl evels have rebounded), yet they had no issues. We didn’t cut their cords for an hour post-birth so this could have factored in too.

    2. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Hmmmm…I wonder if being strep B positive has an effect on the child’s gut bacteria, then? Any idea? This is a fascinating topic…

      Kate, the cord cutting thing is so controversial too – my OB says that even before the cord completely stops pulsing, the blood begins to flow back into the mom, causing more harm than good, so it’s best to cut within a few minutes, although probably not quite as fast as the ER docs cut ours…sigh…

      1. Meg @ Cracking An Egg

        We did no Vit K shots with our last 2 – it is for clotting, and doesn’t have anything to do with their gut… I was GBS+ with our last birth, and I did not (and yes, a big “NON COMPLIANT” was slapped on my chart) allow any anti-biotics during pregnancy, labor, or afterwards. I had told my husband I would do the anti-biotics if my water broke early (ie: before hospital), but thank God, it didn’t break til she was nearly crowning. I wasn’t concerned with the GBS+ since we were doing SO MANY probiotics to kinda kick it out before birth. Blessedly, our daughter was born very healthy, with likely the best immunity of all my kiddos.

        I’ve heard the cord cutting delay does a great job of helping boost Vit K levels, too. My OB told me the same thing yours did – delaying doesn’t help anything – and my midwife actually snorted when I told her that. 😉

  34. I work in a L&D and most people don’t even know that their babies are given Sweet-Ease. Every time your baby is taken to get a PKU or hearing screen, even newborn pictures there is a really good chance that they are getting sugar-water. Be sure to ask and don’t be afraid to follow them for the screening if necessary. It’s sad really.

  35. I know they gave it to my oldest in the hospital and it was something I did not continue weh we were at home. She is now 21. They probably did it when I was a baby and I will be 49 soon.
    It’s great that new moms are better informed now!! Keep up the questioning!!

  36. I completely agree with you! When I had my son (4 months ago), they did the PKU testing and Vitamin K shot (which I did not want in the first place, but my husband was insistent on circumcision and they won’t circumcise without the Vitamin K shot) in room so I was able to stop them before they gave him the sugar water. I then made sure that there was a sign on his bassinet, in addition to the NO PACIFIER, NO FORMULA sign, indicating NO SUGAR WATER. They had to take him out of the room for his circumcision, and, conveniently, they came to take him right as my midwife was coming in to check on me, making it so I could not go with him. I sent my husband along two minutes later and he caught the nurse with her finger poised, sugar water dripping off on my infants face, ready to stick it in his mouth, while the doctor got ready to perform the circumcision. Let’s just say, it is a good thing for that nurse’s sake that my husband came upon that and not me, otherwise I would have literally ninja chopped her hand away from my baby’s face! He, of course, kept his cool and asked her calmly to step away from the baby 🙂

  37. Pingback: Mid Week Link Love « The Real Food Mama

  38. I have worked in pediatricians offices, and am startled at the incidences of babies being prescribed prilosec and other gut meds is astounding, this is a horrible and unnecessary practice and utterly ridiculous. I read somewhere that the precursor to chronic illnesses starts in the gut and I have also read that around 50% of babies are being diagnosed and treated for acid reflux.

    1. Mine is one of those 50%. What do you do when diagnosed with reflux. This is my first baby and I’m always learning.

      1. My daughter had acid refulx so bad her face was sunken in. She would eat and it would all come back up. We put her on prilosec for about 3 months until her weight stabilized and then I gave her dill pickles to knaw on and peppermint drops. Both worked well and I also made sure I didn’t eat any of the trigger foods myself. With her that left me with a diet of carrots, potatoes, and chicken. I can say I was never soglad to stop nursing and eat food gain. I held out as long as possible though. She was 6 months when diagnosed. Now she is seven and still has to be careful with acid foods but she takes no medication for it and LOVES dill pickles with almost every meal.

        1. My son had very bad reflux when he was young. He also had very bad food intolerance. He was on Prilosec first, then Prevacid, which he absolutely hated, then back to Prilosec. I was on a very strict diet. I would do what I can to help the reflux: keeping him propped up for 1/2 hr after eating, putting him to sleep at an angle, and of course there was my diet. I would only give him the meds when things were very bad. Back then I didn’t know anything about real food or nutrition or what you should give and not give an infant. (He’s also my first child.) I’d never heard of giving babies dill pickles before for acid reflux. Or peppermint drops. Do they actually relieve the symptoms of reflux? I was able to stop giving him med by 3 months old. Things had gotten much better for us once I got a handle on the diet. Unfortunately he did get sugar water in the hospital. Like I said, I didn’t know much back then.

      2. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

        Suspect food allergies/poor gut health, and check out the GAPS diet. I had to do this for my first two. I got my own health better before getting pregnant a third time and my new baby does not have any issues. Lots of meat, fat, stock, and probiotic foods for mom! Same for baby starting at 8 – 10months.

        1. My son had poor gut health for sure. I started giving him infant probiotics when he was about a month and a half to two months old. He still gets his probiotics on a daily basis along with probiotics in homemade yogurt and yogurt cheese. I was given antibiotics when I was pregnant for a urinary tract infection and put on a penicillin drip when I was delivering. If that’s not starting out on the wrong gut health food I don’t know what is! And yes, GAPS, I’m looking into it for me. My son is now two and thankfully doesn’t have any food allergies.

      3. I am so thankful that I stumbled upon Katie’s recommendation to read “What’s Eating Your Child?” by Kelly Dorfman. What an amazing book!!! I would recommend reading that as it does talk about the trend of prescribing reflux meds to littles. My daughter was one of those. Hope that helps.

        1. I’ll second that comment about Kelly Dorfman’s book. Her solution for reflux was on my mind as I was reading comments. Awesome book!

  39. From what I know, it isn’t a relatively new procedure but actually one there have been doing for quite awhile (at least 10 years since I know it happened while I was in nursing school). A better recommendation if you are worried about pain during a procedure- breastfeeding and/or swaddling. Both are also known to reduce pain.
    And just as an FYI, because it is really common, if your baby leaves the room for any procedures just as the routine PKU, the hospital staff is probably using the sugar water without your knowledge. Chances are, it’s even on a pacifier :/

    1. My mother had to fight it ~30 yrs ago, despite telling staff she was exclusively breastfeeding. They gave sugar water anyways. It’s been going on a loooong time.

      1. From a Nurse, the sugar water of the past is not the same thing as sucrose. For all of you complaining about it, it’s 24% sucrose and 76% water. It works like magic to calm infant’s during painful procedures, and often keeps Nurses from repeatedly sticking your infant because it is much easier to draw labs from a calm infant. You all have blown this way out of proportion, and really need to educate yourselves further.
        -A NICU Nurse x 10 years.

        1. I completely agree with you. I think when somebody doesn’t completely understand something and has an internet medical degree, blogs like this happen…

  40. Joanne - The Real Food Mama

    This is a great post!! Thanks!! When my second son was born they gave him sugar water because his blood glucose reading (which it took almost 30 heal pricks to get enough blood) was only 20…why is that you may ask….because they hyperventilated about my blood glucose during labor….cause I had gestational diabetes….so they were monitoring me constantly, it would be too low so they would have me eat…which was usually toast, and then of course my blood sugar would sky rocket….by the time I had my son my sugar was so low I was shaking like crazy….so of course his blood sugar was low!! DUH!! How about we don’t worry about Mom’s blood sugar during labor, its one day people!! I would’ve lived!! And my kids blood sugar would have been fine and then no need for that damned sugar water!! Grrr……I was Ninja chopping everyone in my head that day!! 🙂

  41. Thankfully we didn’t have that happen. Our local hospital has a separate “birth center” just for low risk Mamas to have babies. There’s no nursery, baby rooms in, they have some nurses familiar with Bradley method (phew! I got one!), they let you hang out in the bathtub if you want, etc. It’s not perfect, and the breastfeeding “help” I got was not the most helpful but there was no sugar water at least!

  42. I think you actually heard “Sweet-Ease” which is a brand of sugar water for babies. There’s also Tootsweet. For myself, I think it’s ridiculous when you can just breastfeed right away to produce the same effect. Why wouldn’t they have given you the option anyway? I’m glad this never happened to me when I was in the hospital with my two.

  43. My sister is a nurse in a pediatric hospital – they refer to the sugar water as “baby crack.” No kidding – they use it like a drug. Taught me two things: one, make sure you know everything they’re doing to your little one and two – WHY DO I EAT SUGAR? It acts like a drug!

    1. My youngest had to have an psudo-emergency procedure at our Children’s Hospital when he was 6 weeks old and they gave him the sugar water (with my permission) when they were putting the IV in. It took almost an hour and b/c of the nature of the process I was only able to talk to him, not nurse so that they could get his arm the way it needed to be. They explained that it does help them not feel the pain during that time, and quite frankly for situations like that I was ok with it. My hospital where I delivered my babies never gave them sugar water at least when I was aware of it. I’ll never know for sure, I guess. For little stuff it is nice to nurse but for more difficult stuff I was glad they had it available.

      1. I totally agree. When they were sticking my 2 month old daughter 5 times to get an IV started, doing a catheter for a urine sample, and a spinal tap I was fine with the sugar water. So, I do feel there is a time and a place for the sugar water. For every heel prick? Not so much!

        I will definitely have more say in what goes on the next time around assuming that I have a healthy baby and not a preemie!

  44. Nursing would offer the same pain relief. I can’t believe that they give babies sugar – obviously it works because of breastmilk. May as well use the real thing.

    1. Jessica Leminger

      Ditto! I nursed mine through heel pricks and shots, and it he barely noticed the procedures, or if he did, he calmed down immediately

  45. Louise Dockerty Cross

    I am visualizing the Ninja chop and don’t blame you in the slightest!
    I had noooo idea that they gave new babies sugar, that’s just plain crazy.
    My own children are now adult, I have no idea what was given to them in those early hours, I was ignorant then of the stuff I know now.
    If a Parent gave a child a piece of candy at that early age I’m sure child welfare officers would be summoned or at least a stern talking to about infant nutrition would be given to the Parent, so why on earth do they think this is OK?
    I guess it’s all part of the ‘ill health system’..mmmm

  46. Both of my boys were given the sugar water at the hospital….had I known then what I know now! I was told that it was to fill their bellies and keep them quiet while we attended a mandatory hospital exit meeting (military hospital). But that was 10 years ago….

  47. Kinda Crunchy Kate

    What?! I cannot believe that they want to give a newborn SUGAR water! Did the researchers who did this supposed study take into account that it was probably just the simple fact the the baby was sucking on something that was soothing? Good for you for watching out for baby Jonathan and refusing!

    1. Well with my son they took him everytime they gave him sweeties I thought it was like a mild form of pain killer my nurse told me it was for pain what an a hole they never try to explain anything ugh thanks ladies

  48. There is absolutely no reason why they can’t allow the mother to nurse her baby while they do the heel stick. Sucking is associated with reduced pain, but it doesn’t have to be on their sugar teats.

    1. I can verify this. I was able to nurse one of the 4 children I’ve had the PKU blood prick done on. With 2 of my babies, I was told they wouldn’t allow me to nurse because it would cause trauma to the infant and they would associate it with breast feeding, causing feeding problems – such craziness. I was in such shock from disbelief that I gave in. I now have a backbone and will only allow heal pricks while nursing.

      1. I draw blood, and often draw from infants, either venipuncture or heel poke, and I often times will encourage a new mom to breast feed while I do it, if they are comfortable with it and if I know they are already breastfeeding (so it’s not awkward when they say they don’t breastfeed). I have never had a problem with a mom breastfeeding while drawing from baby. Sure you kind of have to maneurvar around differently to get the blood, and there is a strangers boob right out there in the open, but if both mom and nurse/tech are okay with it then I see no problem with it. It keeps the baby calm (generally) and mom feels a little more in control of the situation. Heck I even had a mom breastfeed her 3 year old while I drew his blood. That one I wasn’t 100% comfortable with just because of his age and I didn’t know how he would react (such as biting down when he got poked– I was more concerned with mom being bit because of his age) but it went smoothly. I’ll never turn down a mothers request to breastfeed while drawing a baby. My opinion is mom knows best, even if it’s her first child and she’s only been a “mom” for a day.

  49. I have never heard that explanation for the sugar water. That is ridiculous. Do they not understand anything about breast milk? Jeez.

  50. Summer @ Well-rounded Hippie

    My twins are 22 months old and I’ve never heard of this. Our babies were away from us due to jaundice. But I am by no means an expert. And I agree with you, by all means unnecessary!

    1. Vanessa Howell

      I am a NICU nurse with 30+ years of experience and I am a strong believer in an infant’s right to evidenced based pain control (lots of published research on sucrose/sweet-ease). Just as an adult would like to have pain control for painful procedures so does your infant. This can be accomplished in many ways such as breastfeeding during the procedure, offering a pacifier for distraction, swaddling and containment… When mothers are not breastfeeding or they can not do so at the time of a painful procedure sucrose is an evidenced based option for reducing minor procedural pain. I have seen infants not cry at all during an IV stick. There are very few side effects (spitting is one). It is very easy to e persuaded by on line blogs but to make an informed decision you should go to the medical literature.

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