ABSTRACT: Background: Active parent involvement in caring for their infants in the neonatal care unit is thought to improve parent-infant attachment and to moderate the psychological stress for parents, but few recent studies have examined parent visiting patterns and participation in infant caregiving. The study purposes were to describe the frequency and duration of parent visiting and participation in infant caregiving activities, and to identify parent and infant factors associated with parental participation.

Methods: Parental visiting frequency, duration, and participation in social, cleaning, and feeding activities with their infant (n=110) were recorded on 12 days during a 3-month period in a tertiary neonatal unit.

Results: Mothers visited more frequently (85% vs 45% of possible days) and for longer than fathers, and visited less frequently if the infant had other siblings, if the infant was over age 1 month, or if fathers made fewer visits. Fathers visited less frequently if the infant was over age 7 days and more frequently if the mothers visited more frequently. All mothers and most (96%) fathers carried out social activities, such as talking, stroking or holding, during their visits. Over 75 percent of mothers engaged in infant cleaning and feeding activities during visits in contrast with less than 20 percent of fathers. Mothers’ participation in infant feeding was best predicted by the duration of their visit and their participation in infant cleaning. Fathers’ participation in infant feeding was only related to their participation in infant cleaning.

Conclusions: Significant differences were found in this neonatal unit between mothers’ and fathers’ visiting patterns and infant caregiving activities. Neonatal unit staff should consider factors that may influence parental visiting and explore strategies to improve parental involvement in caregiving. (BIRTH 30:1 March 2003)