National Association of Neonatal Nurses logo.

2015 Small Grant Winner

Dorothy Vittner, PhD(c) MSN BSN

University of Connecticut School of Nursing
Biobehavioural Mechanisms During Maternal and Paternal Skin to Skin Contact with Preterm Infants

At what institute are you currently conducting your research?
The study will be conducted in the level lll-IV NICU in the Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC); which has sites in Hartford and Farmington, CT. CCMC is the regional referral center for pediatric specialty care for the northern 2/3 of CT with over 1,000 admissions per year. A third supplemental site in the NICU at Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN) will also be used.

What is the main focus of your research?
The purpose of this study is to examine bio-behavioral mechanisms associated with maternal and paternal skin-to-skin contact with premature infants. Specifically, changes that occur in infant and parental (mother and/or father) oxytocin levels during SSC holding which may be associated with simultaneous reductions in stress and with later outcomes reflecting improvements in infant neurobehavioral development and responsiveness with parental-infant interaction.

How did receiving the NANN Research Institute's Small Grants Award positively impact your career?
This grant has provided me with the opportunity to take the next step in my professional path to fully participate in the research process. It will facilitate the foundational skills necessary to move into a faculty position within the university setting as well as to contribute to the scientific evidence which supports infants and their families in the often difficult neonatal period.

Why is your work important and how does it advance the field of neonatal nursing?
This proposal aims to address the critical gap and increase understanding of the mechanisms that link parent-infant contact to bio-behavioral responses. This is an important step in exploring oxytocin as a potential moderator to improve the infant's developmental outcome. This study may ultimately lead to new interventions to increase endogenous oxytocin release and to evaluate the efficacy of exogenous oxytocin in order to improve infants' and parents' well-being during the vulnerable neonatal period. Uncovering the neurobiological basis of early parent-infant interaction is an important step in developing therapeutic modalities to improve health outcomes.

In what ways does NANN membership add value to your professional development?
NANN provides valuable resources such as these grant awards to support beginning researchers to investigate various topics within the neonatal population. Another pivotal component to enhance professional development is the opportunity for peer collaboration via the list serve on pertinent neonatal questions. The responses from all over the country provide diverse perspectives often sharing literature to enhance the care to infants and their families. NANN also provides extensive evidence-based educational opportunities to enhance professional development.