WHIPPANY, N.J. — New medical studies lend credence to the traditional Jewish practice of letting babies suck on a drop of wine during the brit, or ritual circumcision.
Researchers at Newark's University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey reported recently that newborns undergoing circumcision are soothed by a pacifier containing a sugar-water solution. Mohelim traditionally give babies sweetened wine during the brit.
In a study conducted at the medical school, infants given the sugar-water pacifiers before being circumcised cried for a shorter period of time than infants given no pacifier or pacifiers containing water. Both groups of infants given pacifiers during the study had significantly lower increases in heart rates than infants not given a pacifier.
Indeed, several mohelim point to the value of wine — which has a high sugar content — as an anesthetic.
Rabbi Gerald Chirnomas of Adat Israel Congregation in Boonton, N.J., noted that as a mohel, he repeatedly dips a rubber-gloved finger in a cup of kosher wine during the brit ceremony and lets the baby suck on it. He also instructs parents to have a bottle of sugar-water solution on hand to give the baby after the ceremony.
"I've been giving babies sugar water for 30 years," Chirnomas said, adding that the newest study reinforces an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine several years ago.
Discussing the report, Dr. Walter Zahorodny, assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and principal investigator of the study, said: "We believe the sugar-water solution provided comfort in two ways. The sugar interacted with chemicals in the brain called opiates to induce a feeling of well-being in these infants. This feeling was then enhanced by the sucking action, which relaxes the nervous system receptors that are responsible for providing comfort."
Zahorodny undertook the study after reviewing research that showed sugar-water pacifiers reduced pain in infants undergoing immunization. He said that although more than 60 percent of male infants in the United States are circumcised at birth, they are rarely given pain medication.
The study included 61 newborns; each infant's heart rate was monitored before and after circumcision.
The data showed that the heart rates of babies who received the sugar-water or water pacifiers increased an average of 50 percent less than babies who received no pacifier. Also, those given sugar-water pacifiers cried for an average of one and a half minutes. Those given water pacifiers cried for three minutes and those given nothing cried for five and a half minutes.
Zahorodny commented, "The findings of the study, while convincing, also indicate that newborns experience pain and, as physicians, our role in comforting our patients is an integral part of our mission to heal."