Mothers of premature babies often experience a roller coaster of emotions. The birth of a preemie may bring joy as well as anxiety about your little one's health. If your baby requires intensive care, it can be particularly difficult, as you may not be able to comfort or rock your new little bundle of joy right away. However, even when your baby is in intensive care, there are steps you can take to bond during this critical time. And the best news is that bonding can be good for your baby's health.
Learn About Your Baby's Needs
Preemies have special needs that most parents aren't prepared for. Lanelle Freeman, a social worker and director of Maine Families, a program that helps parents provide for the emotional and physical health of their babies, recommends that parents "Learn as much as you can about what your baby needs. Knowledge about your child's development is crucial." Pay attention to the medical staff that is caring for your baby and as your baby grows stronger, you can take over tasks such as diaper changes. Freeman adds, "Parents shouldn't ever be afraid to ask questions or point out any concerns they have while their baby is in the hospital."
Even when you aren't able to take your baby home right away, there are still opportunities to bond with your baby right in the hospital. Visit your baby often and comfort her, even if you can't hold her. "Babies recognize the sound of their parent's voice. Parents can often talk to their baby, read stories or sing softly to comfort a baby who is in the NICU," recommends Freeman. Visiting often can also help new parents gain confidence in their skills to care for a premature baby. The more time you spend with your baby, the easier it will become to recognize her cues.
Providing gentle touches to your baby can improve her health while also facilitating a bond. Freeman says, "Touch is important for premature babies but the kind of touch they need varies. Parents should talk to medical staff about what kind of touch will be best for their baby. For example, some babies can't handle being stroked but they can appreciate a gentle hand on them." Babies who aren't able to tolerate any touch at all can often still appreciate a warm hand close to them. As your baby grows stronger, you'll be able to provide more contact.
Kangaroo care has been shown to have multiple benefits for preemies. Kangaroo care gives parents an opportunity to care for their preemie, similar to the way a kangaroo carries a baby in her pouch. During kangaroo care, babies wear only a diaper and are placed in direct contact with a parent's skin for several hours at a time. Freeman says, "Kangaroo care can help preemies sleep better, which allows them to put more energy into growing and developing." Kangaroo care can help improve a baby's respiration and heart rate while keeping him warm. The process also helps facilitate bonding and attachment.
Provide Breast Milk
Although many preemies aren't able to breastfeed or even drink from a bottle right away, you can still establish your milk supply. Sometimes milk can be given in other ways. For example, a pacifier can sometimes be dipped in breast milk and given to a baby. It can also be frozen and stored for later use. Pumping breast milk ensures that you'll be ready as soon as your baby is well enough to breastfeed.
Take Care of Yourself
It's essential to take care of yourself after having a preemie so that you stay healthy enough to care for your baby and bring her home when she's ready. Caring for a preemie can be exhausting and sometimes parents stop eating, sleeping and caring for themselves. Freeman says, "Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family for things that you need. Ask the hospital staff for help when you need it as well." Support groups are often available to help parents of premature babies connect with other families.