Preemies, especially very early preemies, often can’t be held or even touched for some time after birth. A combination of factors – from the delicate, thin skin of micro-preemies to the fact that premature infants often respond to touch differently than their full-term peers – can make it challenging or scary for moms and dads to bond with their babies through touch.
And as a result, a surprising number of parents of preemies don’t feel comfortable touching their babies or caring for their physical needs even when doctors and nurses in the NICU finally give the okay.
It’s not surprising, if you think about it. Preemies can look even more fragile than they are. Touching or holding a baby in the NICU can involve a complicated dance of shifting tubes and wires. Feeding a new preemie may involve not breast or bottle, but feeding tubes and other specialized equipment. Over-stimulation issues can put strict limits on how parents touch their infants. And typically simple tasks like changing a diaper or giving a bath can be incredibly intimidating for new parents of preemies.
If you feel or have ever felt uncomfortable interacting physically your preemie, we want you to know that you’re absolutely not alone! But as nervous as you may be feeling about touching, holding, or caring for your premature infant, touch is an important part of bonding.
Here are some tips that can help you grow more comfortable interacting with your preemie in a physical way – in ways that your preemie will appreciate.
- NICU nurses and doctors won’t suggest touching or holding your baby until he or she is ready for that kind of contact. So when you get the go ahead to gently touch your preemie or start kangaroo care, try to remember that you’re not going to hurt him or her.
- Ask a NICU nurse how preemies like to be touched. At different stages and ages, preemies prefer different kinds of touches. There are ways you can physically interact with your preemie that won’t cause over-stimulation and can even help regulate his or her breathing and heart rate.
- Try to be involved in your preemie’s care from the beginning but also go at your own pace. Ask what you can do to help, even if it’s just changing a diaper. If you feel less than confident, ask a nurse to show you how to work around your baby’s medical equipment.
- Preemies often look more delicate than they really are – and this goes double if your only experiences have been with strapping, full-term babies. In the course of gently touching and caring for your baby, you will not hurt him or her.
- A preemie mom or dad’s touch can be like magic, which means that holding your baby is worth facing your fears for. Your preemie won’t know how nervous you felt or how much doubt you had in your heart when you held them in the NICU – just that you were there when they needed you most.