Mothers’ engagement with their hospitalized preterm infant(s) is recognized as an important aspect of treatment in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). However, no gold standard exists for measuring maternal engagement, and the various methods used to measure mothers’ time have documented limitations.
This study sought to compare three measurement methods of maternal engagement (a five-item maternal cross-sectional survey, time use diaries, and electronic health records [EHRs]) to identify whether these methods capture consistent data and patterns in detected differences in measures of engagement.
Maternal engagement was defined as time spent visiting the infant in the NICU (presence), holding (blanket holding in the mother’s arms or by kangaroo care [KC]), and caregiving (e.g., bathing and changing diapers). The survey estimating daily maternal engagement was administered in two Level III NICUs and one Level IV NICU at study enrollment, at least 2 weeks after admission. Mothers then completed the daily time use diaries until infant discharge. Data were also collected from participants’ EHRs, charted by nursing staff. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were used for pairwise analysis of the three measures for maternal engagement activities.
A total of 146 participants had data across all three measurement types and were included in the analysis. In the Level III NICUs (n = 101), EHR data showed significantly more time spent with all engagement activities than the diary data. In the Level IV data, only differences in time holding were significant when comparing EHR data with survey data, with mothers reporting more time doing KC and less time blanket holding. Comparison of EHR data with diary data showed more time in all activities except KC.
In most cases, time spent in engagement activities measured in the EHR was higher than in the surveys or time use diaries. Accuracy of measurements could not be determined because of limitations in data collection, and there is no gold standard for comparison. Nevertheless, findings contribute to ongoing efforts to develop the most valuable and accurate strategies for measuring maternal engagement—a significant predictor of maternal and infant health.