Methods: This repeated-measure study took place in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Southwest USA. Starting when infants were four days old, physiological readings (N=97 readings; N=15 infants; 53% White, 20% Hispanic, 13% African American; 53% female) were assessed daily; heart rates of infants and Individuals Wearing the Infant (IWI; 16% mothers/5% fathers) were taken every 15-seconds before, during, and after carrying the infant in an infant carrier (approximately an hour and a half procedure from start to finish, allowing 30 minutes for each phase). A finger plethysmograph, also known as a pulse oximeter, measured heart rate for the IWI. Infants were continuously monitored by cardiopulmonary machines using a pulse oximeter wrapped around their foot. We used a 3-Level Hierarchical Linear Model in order to account for the nested data (HRs nested within readings, nested within infant-adult dyads) at three time points (before, during, and after babywearing).
Results: We found that compared to baseline (infant calm/asleep and without contact), infants and IWIs heart rates’ declined significantly (B=-1.84, SE=.20, p<.001, and B=-.65, SE=.10, p<.001, respectively), indicating reduced pain and stress, both during (20 minutes in the carrier) and after (30 minutes following) using the carrier. There was no significant difference by IWI (mother, father, nurse/volunteer). Infants being treated pharmacologically (morphine, clonidine) had a lower baseline heart rate (B=-10.59, SE=3.28, p=.002) but no significant interaction effects with carrier use.
Conclusions and Implications: Babywearing infants with NAS can decrease infant pain and caregiver stress. Incorporating babywearing into NAS treatment protocol in the NICU can reduce expenditures by eliminating the use of expensive pharmacological interventions and long hospital stays. Additionally, promoting Babywearing as a hospital norm and policy can reduce risk for child abuse and neglect on a more macro level. Parents who are able to calm and sooth their infants perceive their infant as less difficult, have greater parenting confidence, and are more likely to develop a secure caregiver-infant attachment.