A pilot study demonstrating the impact of the supporting and enhancing NICU sensory experiences (SENSE) program on the mother and infant

Roberta Pineda, Michael Wallendorf, Joan Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Aim: To explore differences in maternal mental health and infant neurobehavioral outcome among infants who received and did not receive the Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) program. Study design: Eighty preterm infants (50 receiving standard-of-care and 30 receiving the SENSE program) born ≤32 weeks gestation were enrolled within the first week of life in a prospective quasi-experimental design, using a historical control group for comparison. Standard-of-care consisted of tactile (skin-to-skin, touch, holding) and olfactory (scent cloth, close maternal contact) interventions as determined to be appropriate by health care professionals and parents. The SENSE group received specific doses of tactile (skin-to-skin care, holding, massage, touch), auditory (human speech, music), olfactory (scent cloth, close maternal contact), kinesthetic/vestibular (movement, rocking/transfers), and visual (dim or cycled light) exposures, based on the infant's postmenstrual age and tailored to medical status and infant cues according to the SENSE program. The SENSE program includes the intentional delivery of positive, age-appropriate sensory exposures by parents (or a sensory support team, when parents are unavailable) each day of NICU hospitalization. Infant neurobehavioral outcome, as well as maternal mental health and confidence, were assessed prior to NICU discharge, using standardized measures. Results: Seventy-three infants were included in the final analysis. Mothers whose infants received the SENSE program demonstrated higher scores on the Maternal Confidence Questionnaire (p = 0.01). Infants who received the SENSE program demonstrated less asymmetry on the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (p = 0.02; mean difference 0.9) and higher scores on the Hammersmith Neonatal Neurological Evaluation (p < 0.001; mean difference 4.8). Discussion: Preliminary evidence demonstrates improvements in maternal confidence and infant neurobehavioral performance following SENSE implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105000
JournalEarly Human Development
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Environment
  • Neonatal intensive care unit
  • Preterm
  • Sensory


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