Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But sometimes sugar doesn’t have a soothing effect.

Preliminary research findings on postmature infants indicate that babies who are born after 41 weeks of gestation and have a condition known as Clifford’s postmaturity syndrome react differently to a sugar solution than do babies who are born within a normal time frame.

Clifford’s postmaturity syndrome occurs in an estimated 10 percent of all newborns. The syndrome occurs in some infants born after 41 weeks. Since the baby remains in the uterus even though it is no longer a nurturing atmosphere, the infant begins living off its own body fat, causing dehydration and a wrinkled appearance upon birth.

Dr. Barbara Smith, Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University and colleagues studied 31 infants born at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Their study, “Motoric Responses to Sucrose Differ in Postmature and Term Infants,” will appear in the January issue of the Journal of Physiology and Behavior. Each child received a drop of a sugar solution and their reactions were analyzed. Typically, sugar calms cranky babies, but the five Clifford’s babies continued to twitch and cry, at a rate of three times as much as the 25 normal-term newborns.

Smith noted that the Clifford babies resembled babies born to heroin-addicted mothers, and that the sugar stimulated the same part of the brain as heroin does, the opioid pathway. She and her associates are studying a possible connection.

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