For Part 3 in my Life in the NICU series I am going to focus on how you can connect & bond with your baby while they are in the NICU.
I have covered how to cope in the early stages of a NICU stay in Part 1, and Part 2 looked at how to survive and even thrive during a NICU stay.
Being a NICU parent can sometimes make you feel a disconnected from your little one. In most cases it is not feasible or practical for you to spend every moment at the NICU with your baby. You may have other children at home that you need to take care of, you may not be permitted to stay over due to space limitations at the hospital. You can’t be there 24/7 which means that someone is feeding, changing and taking (good) care of your baby while you are away. Depending on how small your baby is, and what health issues you are facing you may not be able to hold or handle your baby even if you are present at the bedside. As a parent it is heart wrenching have to pass tasks such as diaper changes or middle of the night feedings to the nurses, knowing that you are the one that *should* be the one taking care of your baby.
I know that I was worried about being able to connect and bond with A.C. while he was in the NICU. Would he know that I was his mother? How would this affect our bonding with A.C? I tried to make the moments that I was at the NICU with him count, so that I could learn about him and his personality, and he could learn about me too.
Here are my tips for helping all family memebers bond with your NICU baby:
Feedings – Not all babies will be able to be fed by their parents right away, but if you can feed your baby. This can come in many different forms – breastfeeding, bottle feeding, NG tube…
If your baby is being tube fed, make sure you ask if you can hold them while the feeding is taking place. The important thing is to be there for your child, it is a great time to tell them stories about all of the adventures you will have once you are home.
In you can – breastfeed – This is the most amazing bonding experience with your little one, and as a mom YOU are directly doing something for your baby by providing the perfect nutrition for them.
Skin-to-skin Contact – I cannot overstate the IMPORTANCE of skin-to-skin time for preemies with mom or dad (this is a great way for daddy’s to get in some bonding too). You may also hear this called Kangaroo care, which has been shown to benefit babies by helping them regulate their heartbeat, breathing and body temperature. As well as having an overall calming influence on the baby (and parent too!). It was AMAZING to watch A.C.’s monitors during skin-to-skin time – he was calm, relaxed and all of his stats were perfect. Make sure you ask the NICU staff when it is appropriate for you to start skin-to-skin if they have not brought it up already.
Touch – Hold your baby whenever you can. Preemies need their rest to grow and develop, but when you can hold your baby, give them a bath, change their diaper. Be there and be active in their care. If you baby cannot be picked up, ask if you can stroke your child’s head, hands or feel.
Read & Sing– I brought in some books we had in A.C.’s collection into the NICU so that we could read to him when we were visiting. That way he could still hear my voice, but I didn’t have to come up with a one sided conversation. Grandmas & Grandpas also enjoyed reading stories, and being able to connect.
Decorate – The NICU will be your home away from home. Bring in pictures to put up, maybe a little teddy bear to spruce things up a bit. (Just make sure everything is well labeled) Bring in receiving blankets and clothes for your little one, and make up a little laundry basket so that YOU can do your baby’s laundry. (it might seem silly, but I enjoyed bringing home A.C.’s preemie clothes to wash, it was one more way I could actively be part of taking care of him).
Having a child in the NICU can be overwhelming, so just take small steps to connect and bond with them and it will make a world of difference.
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