PURPOSE The purpose of this study was to examine coregulation between mothers and preterm infants in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system activity, as indicated by salivary cortisol levels, while mothers held their infants. The research questions were (a) does mother-infant coregulation in HPA activity occur during holding? and (b) if mother- infant coregulation in HPA activity exists during holding, do type of holding, antenatal steroids, sound level, and maternal touch influence this coregulation? SAMPLE The sample consisted of 20 mother- infant dyads with infants at a mean postconceptional age of 34.7 weeks (+0.7) and average postnatal age of 15 days (+9) at the time of cortisol sampling. DESIGN The design was exploratory using convenience sampling. Maternal and infant cortisol levels were obtained at Time 1 (baseline) and Time 2 (end of holding); at each time, the absolute differences in levels between mother and infant were determined. Coregulation was operationalized as less difference between maternal-infant cortisol levels immediately after holding (Time 2) as compared to before holding (Time 1). RESULTS The two variables with the highest correlation with the Time 1/Time 2 difference score included antenatal steroids and ambient sound level, which were entered into a linear regression equation as predictor variables. A coregulatory relationship in cortisol levels existed between mothers and infants during holding, which was moderated by sound levels. Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can facilitate the mother-infant relationship, as reflected in coregulatory measures, by promoting a quiet environment, particularly around mothers who are holding their infants.
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