Bonding with your Preemie or NICU Baby

Kristie McNealy, MD

Having your preemie or sick newborn whisked away to the NICU and tucked in an isolette can have a negative impact on bonding. Hospital regulations, your baby’s condition and your own fears and anxieties can make it difficult for you to feel close to your baby, but there are many things you can do to help bond with your baby.
At first, you may be afraid to touch your baby. For starters, relax, a nurse can show you how to handle your baby in a way that is safe and comfortable for them. When my daughter was first born, our nurses told us that the best way to touch her was to cup our hand around her head, back or bottom, helping to create boundaries for her. We were told not to stroke her skin, because that type of touch can be very irritating to some preemies, giving them a sensation similar to how your skin feels when you are sick and feverish. If you are unsure if it is ok to touch your baby, just ask your nurse when you get to the NICU. They can tell you if the baby needs to stay quiet for a blood draw or other tests.
During care times, ask you nurse to let you change your baby’s diaper, take their temperature and, if possible, dress them. Ask to be the one that bathes your baby. Again, your nurse can show you how to handle your baby and all the tubes and wires attached to them to make these tasks as easy as possible. You may need another set of hands at first, so just ask.
If you are able to, pump milk for your baby. Giving your baby expressed breast milk gives you a sense of providing for and mothering your baby. Ask if you can help with administering tube feeds, and when your baby can nipple, check on their feeding schedule before coming to the hospital so you can have the chance to give a bottle or practice breastfeeding.
The first time you are able to hold your baby will be a wonderful experience. Your nurse will help you get settled, and make sure your baby is bundled up and toasty warm. While holding your baby, be aware of their facial expressions and behavior. Preemies have immature nervous systems, so they can be overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Sometimes eye contact, noise and movement can be too much for your baby to handle all at one time. If rocking and talking seems to make them agitated, try talking while you sit still, or just holding quietly.
Kangaroo care is a special type of holding which is especially beneficial to preemies. During kangaroo care, your baby will be placed on your bare chest, wearing only a diaper. Blankets will then be placed over you and the baby, but your body heat will help to keep your baby warm. This skin to skin contact not only facilitates bonding, but it can also help your baby thrive.
Other ways to bond with your baby and pass time in the NICU include reading to them, and playing soft music. Talking can be soothing for some babies, because they have become used to the sound of your voice in the womb. The important thing is to do what feels natural to you and is well tolerated by your baby.


Information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition, or to supersede the advice of your physician. If you have a medical emergency call 911 or your doctor immediately. Consult your physiscian as soon as possible for any concerns over your child’s health or development.

Copyright © 2007 NICU 101, LLC
This material may not be used or redistributed without the express written permission of the author.