Skin-to-Skin Holding in the NICU

Dorothy Vittner, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior NIDCAP Trainer, talks about the importance and multiple effects of skin-to-skin holding in the newborn intensive care unit and beyond.

Dorothy Vittner, PhD, RN, FAAN, has a background of 30 years in Neonatal/Perinatal nursing which includes more than 20 years research experience that has focused on the care of high-risk infants and their families. Her professional responsibilities have focused on infant neurobehavioral functioning as well as training multidisciplinary health care professionals on infant behavior and development to improve outcomes for hospitalized infants. Dorothy is a Senior NIDCAP Trainer, a member of the NIDCAP Federation Board of Directors, serving as Vice-President, and is the Chair of the NFI Program Committee. Dorothy currently holds a faculty position at the Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
She has a longstanding interest in Reflective Process implementation to support health care professionalsÕ emotion well-being and functioning with repeated and prolonged stress exposure. Dorothy has clinical expertise with translating complex developmental theories into practice. She has lectured around the world, has published many peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. She completed her PhD from the University of Connecticut, School of Nursing. Her research interests are related to bio-behavioral mechanisms of supporting developing mother-father-infant relationships specifically oxytocin release and how it modulates premature infantsÕ behavioral, autonomic and stress responses. Uncovering the neurobiological basis of early parent-infant interaction is an important step in developing therapeutic modalities to increase parent engagement and improve health outcomes.
The experience of early life stress in hospitalized infants whether the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit or Cardiac Intensive Care Unit has implications for both long- and short-term infant development. Dorothy has examined the relationship between early life experiences particularly trauma and chronic stress and effects on parent engagement. She has collaborated on research teams that have demonstrated associations between early life stress with parent interactions and developmental outcomes both at discharge from the NICU and beyond. Understanding the implications in this and other studies is important to developing targeted intervention strategies to further support care practices for all high-risk infants.
Dorothy also completed an interdisciplinary fellowship with the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental & Related Disabilities (LEND Program) and worked for more than 10 years for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Disabilities, Division of Quality Management. In this role she provided consultation and regulatory oversight to public and private organizations to identify gaps within systems of care for individuals with developmental disabilities across the lifespan that influences health outcomes.