Parenting in the NICU
Preterm labor and birth can be scary for a variety of reasons. First and probably the most obvious, is the realization that your baby needs additional support to survive, and Instead of going home to celebrate with family and friends, you are still very much attached to the hospital if your baby is in NICU. This is probably the last thing you thought you might have to contend with – leaving your newborn, whom you may have not even had a chance to hold yet, in an incubator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)..
While you understand the importance of care your child is receiving in the hospital, it would have been much simpler and exciting to take your child home with you. Bonding is just so much easier with physical touch, and you may not have even touched your baby, let alone hold him/her.
It can be frustrating and scary when faced with this scenario, and many parents find it hard to deal with leaving their newborn at the NICU. This time, already so saturated with emotions, may be confusing and scary, but it important for parents with babies in the NICU to do their best to start bonding right away, despite the challenges and difficulties.
Bonding with your baby in the NICU requires patience and strength. Start with being there for your newborn. His/her development is influenced from your care tremendously. Even with no touch, you can give your child love. Talk to him, or read his stories. Your voice and smell, and if possible the touch of your hand on his head, can comfort you both.
If you planed to breastfeed, there is no need to change your plans. Start pumping right away and give your milk to the nurses to give to your baby. This way your milk supply will not diminish due to it not being used, and your baby will have the benefit of mother’s milk. Breastmilk is important for his immune system and development. If your preemie can not yet eat (which is common in smaller preemies), pump and store your milk.
While parenting in the NICU is difficult and poses challenges, it is time well spent for both you and your little one. Your presence and care may very well help shorten his stay in the hospital, and when you bring your baby home you will already have a strong relationship and the adjustment will be made smoother.