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As a parent, you can most likely stay with your baby throughout much of the day. Talk to your baby’s nurse about when you can visit. Your baby’s brothers, sisters, and grandparents may not be allowed in the NICU, or may be able to make only short visits. This is to protect your baby from infection and from too much excitement.
Very early preemies have skin that is thin and fragile. So they may not be able to cope well with being touched. But as your baby grows and develops, touch can be pleasant for you and your baby. Depending on your baby’s gestational age, NICU staff may suggest:
Containment: This means putting your hands and arms on either side of your baby while the baby lies in bed. Preemies like this because it’s much like what they experienced in the womb.
Light touch: Stroking your baby may be too much stimulation. A steady touch is best.
Kangaroo care: When your baby is ready, skin-to-skin contact is the next step. This is your chance to hold and cuddle your baby. Adjust your shirt so you can hold your baby against your bare skin. Cover your baby with the shirt or a blanket to stay warm. Kangaroo care can be relaxing for you and your baby. It may also help your baby recover better or more quickly from some of the medical problems preemies have.
Non-nutritive (comfort) breastfeeding: Because of tubes in the mouth and taped to the face, babies in the NICU sometimes develop “oral aversion.” Holding your baby and having your baby suckle, even without getting any milk, can help your baby overcome oral aversion. It may also make feeding easier later.
Preemies can be very sensitive to touch, sound, bright light, and other forms of stimulation. To keep your baby as comfortable as possible:
Let your baby sleep when he or she needs to.
Keep noise and bright lights to a minimum.
Try not to bang things on the incubator, talk in a loud voice, or slam doors.
If lights seem too bright, ask a nurse if you can drape a blanket over the incubator.
Personalize your baby’s environment. But first, check with a nurse about what is and isn’t allowed and what’s safe for your baby.
When your baby is awake, talk or sing in a quiet voice.
Participate in your baby’s care as advised by your baby’s nurse. This may include diapering, breast or bottle feeding, or taking your baby’s temperature. If your baby is very sick, NICU staff may need to take on more of these tasks, but there is always something you can do.
Work with NICU staff to develop a plan of care for your baby.
Share your sense of how your baby is doing with NICU staff. As you get to know your baby, you may notice subtle changes that nobody else does.
Make sure to take care of yourself, too. If you are feeling sick, it's importannt that you tell the NICU staff and avoid visiting if they feel your baby could catch a cold or other infections from you. As difficult as this is, it's important that your baby stay as healthy as possible. Ask the NICU staff or your doctor about other ways to protect your baby, such as making sure you have had a seasonal flu shot.
Preemies move less and make less noise than term babies. Their facial expressions are more subtle. Look for these signs and try to get to know how your baby shows different moods.
Signs of stress
Holding arms or legs out stiff, or arching the back
Gasping, fussing, or crying
Lack of response
Signs of contentment or pleasure
Relaxed arms and legs