The neonatal intensive care environment exposes the developing immature newborn to
many sources of stress and pain at a time when the infant is developmentally least
able to cope with it. Animal and human evidence suggest that effects of stress, mediated
through permanent changes in the brain and neuroendocrine responses, may result in
changes in behaviour and information processing, which persist throughout childhood.
These changes impact on the dynamics of the mother infant dyad and infant learning.
Interactional styles arising in the newborn period tend to persist throughout childhood
but may be amenable to intervention focusing on maternal recognition of infant cues,
social stimulation of the infant, and family integration. Developmental care may promote
better family, infant and child outcomes by both reducing neonatal stress and its
neurobiological sequelae, and fostering an appropriate interactional relationship
between mother and infant.