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Doctors learned how to save premature infants’ lives. They forgot about pain.

When Mats Eriksson was just starting off as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit in the 1980s, he truly hated one part of his job. To draw blood for the daily metabolic test, he had to prick the babies’ heels with a tiny lancet and squeeze their heels to collect enough blood for analysis. It was hard to do, and hard to watch.

“The children were crying; the mothers almost fainted,” he says. “I was sweaty all over. It was a really tough job for everyone. And we had nothing to offer.”

By anything to offer, he means drugs to treat the infants’ apparent pain. Strong drugs like morphine can be dangerous for such young bodies. Even everyday drugs like Tylenol and Advil can be harmful to use in infants because of their potential impacts on the liver and kidneys.

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