Preterm Stress Behaviors, Autonomic Indices, and Maternal Perceptions of Infant Colic

Fumiyuki C. Gardner, Cherie S. Adkins, Sarah E. Hart, R. Alberto Travagli, Kim Kopenhaver Doheny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: While biological and behavioral stress response systems are intact in early gestation, preterm infants' behaviors are often more subtle and difficult to interpret compared with full-term infants. They are also more vulnerable for regulatory issues (ie, colic) that are known to impact caregiver-infant interactions. Biobehavioral measures such as behavioral responsivity and heart rate variability (HRV), particularly cardiac vagal tone, may help elucidate preterm infants' stress/regulatory systems. Purpose: To test the hypotheses that preterm infants' consoling behaviors and high-frequency (HF) HRV in the first week of life are significantly associated and they are inverse correlates of future colic risk. Methods/Search Strategy: Thirty preterm (mean ± SE = 32.7 ± 0.3 weeks postmenstrual age [PMA]) infants underwent direct NIDCAP (Newborn Individualized Development and Assessment Program) observation during routine care and had HRV measurements during their first week postbirth. Sixty-three percent of mothers completed the Infant Colic Scale at 6 to 8 weeks adjusted postnatal age. Nonparametric tests were used to determine associations among behaviors, HRV, and maternal perceptions of infant colic. Findings/Results: Self-consoling behaviors were positively associated with HF-HRV (vagal tone). In addition, stress behaviors were positively associated with low-frequency/high-frequency HRV (sympathetic dominance). Infants who displayed more stress behaviors also demonstrated more self-consoling behaviors. No significant associations were found with colic. Implications for Practice: HF-HRV provides information on the infant's capacity to modulate stress and is a useful, noninvasive measure when behaviors are more difficult to discern. Implications for Research: Further study in a larger sample is needed to determine whether behavioral stress measures and HF-HRV may be useful to determine colic risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-57
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Neonatal Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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