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How can I bond with my baby?

While all the machines in the NICU may seem overwhelming, they don't have to prevent you from interacting with your baby. Bonding with a baby in the NICU is just as important as bonding with any newborn and sometimes even more so as human interaction and touch can help stimulate growth and development in premature infants.

Depending on how sick your child is, you may be able to hold your little one even if she is on a ventilator or has an IV. If the doctors feel that would be too much for your baby, you can still hold her hand, stroke her head and talk and sing to her. A gentle, consistent touch will be the most reassuring.

However, for some very premature infants, touching or stroking may be extremely stressful (if they were still in the womb, they would have little tactile stimulation). In these cases, doctors may suggest that you minimize physical contact but still spend as much time as possible with your baby. Talk to your doctor or nurses to determine how much and what type of contact is best.

If you can hold your baby, you may be able to breastfeed or pump your milk and bottle-feed.

Kangaroo care (or skin-to-skin contact) is another option to help you forge a bond with your new baby. Research suggests that skin-to-skin contact can improve babies' recovery time and help them leave the NICU sooner. Kangaroo care involves holding your baby to your chest so your little one is resting directly on your skin. Loosely close your shirt over your baby to help keep him or her warm.

The best way for parents to help their babies in the NICU is to be there for them and learn to read their behaviors. Although you will probably want to interact with your baby whenever possible, it is also important to allow for periods of undisturbed sleep. If you let your baby set the pace for your time together, you'll both get more out of your time together. By observing your baby's behaviors, you will be able to determine:

  • When your baby is stressed and needs to rest.
  • When your baby is ready to bond with you.
  • What type of interaction your baby likes (stroking, singing, etc.).
  • What time of day your baby is the most alert.
  • How long your baby can respond to you before getting tired.