Examining the Emergence of Mother-Infant Synchrony in the NICU Context

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Study 1 Abstract The emergence of synchronous interactions between mothers and their premature infants in the NICU are influenced by the frequency and duration of dyadic interactions as well as the factors that may facilitate or hinder those interactions. The present study aims to explore levels of maternal engagement during context-specific social interactions in the NICU, measure the frequency of maternal communicative interaction patterns, and identify issues that may deter or disrupt focused engagement. Using a coding scheme grounded in the Biobehavioral Model of Synchrony, trained field observers conducted systematic field observations in a Level-IV NICU over a period of four months recording maternal presence, proximity toward infant, unfocused versus focused engagement, maternal communicative behaviors, and the dyadic social contexts within which they occurred. Analyses included calculating mean duration and relative frequency of maternal behaviors in each social context and subsequently these behaviors were stratified by level of maternal engagement. Qualitative analysis included identification of thematic categories on alternate maternal activities to engagement or focused engagement. Findings indicate that mothers most often engaged in nurturing social contexts with their infants in the NICU using touch and touch combined with gaze as their most frequent communicative behaviors. Vocal interactions were less frequently observed despite its benefit to infant neurodevelopment. Future research is necessary to understand similarities and differences in mother-infant interaction patterns across contexts in the NICU. Study 2 Abstract This study used a within-subjects repeated time series design to observe behavioral interaction patterns in 12 mothers and their preterm infants hospitalized in the NICU. When infants were 32-weeks gestational age, mother-infant dyads were video recorded repeatedly across three time points in three social situations (i.e., routine cares, feeding, and nurturing contexts). Utilizing repeated measures ANOVA, differences in frequency and duration of maternal touch, vocal, gaze, and vestibular interaction behaviors and infant touch, vocal, gaze, and movement behaviors were analyzed across time and social contexts. Results across time showed a significant increase in mothers’ duration of task touch behaviors, a decreased trend in duration of nurturing touch behaviors, and no changes in other maternal behaviors. Infants demonstrated a significant increase in duration of non-distressed vocalizations and significant decrease in touch behaviors over time. Differences across social contexts indicated that mothers showed significantly more task touch interactions during routine cares whereas nurturing contexts demonstrated most significant duration of nurturing touch behaviors. Infants vocalized and moved significantly more during routine care contexts and significantly exhibited longer duration of eyes remaining open during feeding interactions. Findings suggest that maternal and infant interaction behaviors in the NICU may not only change over time but may also be dependent upon the social situational contexts in which these dyadic interactions occur.

Embargo status: Restricted until 01/2024. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

Dyadic Synchrony, Premature Infants, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Mother-Infant Interaction