Mother–Infant dyadic synchrony in the NICU context

Christine Neugebauer, Wonjung Oh, Michael McCarty, Ann M. Mastergeorge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dyadic synchrony is a co-constructed social process relating to the back and forth interactions between mothers and infants that are strongly associated with neurodevelopment, self-regulation, and attachment. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), this process may become interrupted because of the physiological state of the infant, the emotional state of the mother, and the physical environment of the NICU. Purpose: In applying Feldman’s Biobehavioral Model of Synchrony, this empirical review deconstructs the process of dyadic synchrony in the NICU context and provides a conceptual approach to guide both research and clinical practice. Methods: First, we examine the theoretical and empirical literature to explicate the primary structural and biophysiological components of synchrony and relate these constructs to the extant research on premature infants. Next, we synthesize the maternal, infant, and contextual factors that facilitate or inhibit the ontogenesis of dyadic synchrony in the NICU. The final section highlights the state of the science in dyadic synchrony in the NICU including gaps and recommendations for future research. Findings: An empirical review synthesis presents a visual conceptual framework to illustrate multiple processes that depict maternal, infant, and contextual influences of mother–infant synchrony in the NICU. Implications for Practice/Research: Despite the challenges posed to mother–infant relationships in the NICU, high-quality mother–infant interactions are possible, dyadic synchrony can emerge, and premature infants can develop secure attachments. Clinicians and researchers can apply this conceptual framework of mother–infant dyadic synchrony in the NICUto promote evidence-based research and clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvances in Neonatal Care
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Dyadic synchrony
  • Mother–infant interaction
  • NICU
  • Prematurity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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