Staring at your premature newborn through glass while she’s in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can make you feel a world away from her. But while you might have to wait for your first cuddle, there are plenty of ways to start bonding and making that important connection with your preemie baby.
How to comfort hold a preemie
Always speak to a nurse before attempting comfort holding. Comfort holding is ‘still touch’.
Cradling your baby with still, resting hands can be more comforting than stroking or massage, which can be too stimulating for a premature baby.
It can soothe your baby during uncomfortable procedures, settle your baby when they are restless and ultimately help your baby associate comfort with you.
Communicate with your premature baby
You can still communicate with your baby when she’s in an incubator.
If your baby turns her head to look at you, smile at her, and even try singing gently or talking to her. It will help your baby recognise you as a comforting sight and sound. Try to gauge the reaction you get and work out what she likes.
Breastfeeding your premature baby
As well as the normal benefits of breast milk, for a premature baby it helps the vulnerable tummy to mature and fight infection. It also contains hormones and growth factors that help your baby grow and become stronger which is so important for your premature baby.
‘Before 34 weeks though, we do encourage mums to express their milk and the milk is given to the baby through feeding tubes,’ says Jen Griffiths, family support officer for premature baby charity BLISS. After that, providing your baby is doing well enough, the midwives can help you get your premature baby to latch on.
Try kangaroo care
Kangaroo care involves laying your baby against your chest and covering her with your clothes and is a great way for bonding with premature babies. Of course, your baby has to be strong enough to leave the incubator, but this can be done for short periods even when she’s still connected to tubes.
Taking photos of your premature baby
It is important to take regular photos of your baby in NCIU, it may not seem it as all your energy is focussed on her recovery, but your baby’s first days or weeks are important to capture and you will be grateful of them when you are all home.
It is also a good way to help older siblings feel involved and to help explain what is going on with their new brother or sister.