Connecting With Your Premature Baby in the NICU

Having a child in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a club no one wants to join. As you wait for your tiny baby to grow and mature enough to come home, time can seem to move at a crawl. When nights blend into days, and back into nights, the excitement of your new baby can begin to fade into a blur of stress and negative emotions. For babies who are especially small and fragile, interactions like touching, feeding, and changing can be extremely limited, making it difficult to feel connected to your baby. 

Here are five ways you can improve the connection with your premature baby while they are in the hospital:

Get Some Sleep

Depending on your hospital's facilities, you may or may not be able to stay with your baby overnight, and even if overnight stays are accommodated, the sleeping arrangements may be less than favorable. 

During a high-stress time, poor sleep can hinder your mental and physical well-being, making it difficult to think clearly and find a positive mindset. The best thing you can do to feel a loving connection with your baby is to first take care of yourself so you are in the best mental state possible. This may mean taking turns staying overnight with your partner or utilizing naps. 

Physical Touch or Proximity

Each baby’s individual circumstances will be different, so speak with your baby’s nurse about what kind of touch may be tolerated. Whether it’s a finger for them to hold on to, holding them skin-to-skin, or even being physically near without actually touching them, your baby will be able to sense your presence. Having you nearby is beneficial for their growth and development. It will also help you grow that bond between you and your baby. Once your little one is strong enough, your baby’s nurse can assist you in beginning to help with the caretaking process with tasks like taking their temperature, changing diapers, or feeding them. 

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Talk to Your Baby

Words have power, even with babies. Taking the time to talk to your baby can help you feel more connected as you share your voice, thoughts, and love. You can talk to your baby about your day, tell them about their family, describe their home to them, or talk about how well they are progressing. 

If you aren’t sure what to say, you can choose a favorite book to read aloud to them. What you say is less important than how you say it. Using a calm, clear voice with a gentle tone can be soothing for your newborn. Even playing some of your favorite music (quietly) can be a nice way to connect when other senses, like touch and sight, are less accessible for your baby.  

Share Your Scent

Speaking of senses, babies have been known to show significant improvement when surrounded by the scent of their parents. Even if you are unable to physically be with them at all hours, you can place a t-shirt or another worn (but clean) article of clothing near them so they can take in your scent and begin to associate it with comfort and safety. 

Some NICU facilities have small weighted hearts you can wear inside your shirt for a day and then alternate out with your baby so they have a gentle reminder of you at all times. 

Bring "Home" to Your Baby 

Until you have the opportunity to bring your newest addition home, you can bring a little piece of “home” to the hospital. This could look like photographs of family members, a blanket for your baby, or a picture drawn by an older sibling. While your baby may not recognize all of these touches, they may help to set your own heart at ease, and your baby will feel this. Every very little detail counts. 

Whether your baby’s NICU stay is long or short, it is a significant chapter in your family’s life. While your baby will not remember their time in the NICU, the time and love you share with them in those early days can significantly benefit their health and your life-long connection. Do not undersell your efforts to connect with your baby. Every moment, thought, and piece of sensory input is one small stitch in the fabric of your beautiful, budding relationship.

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