Although caring for a premature baby in the NICU is definitely different from parenting at home, a lot of the parenting tips that work for full-term newborns apply to premature babies just as well.
Below is a list of NICU parenting tips that may help parents care for their premature babies:
It’s important for parents to feel as comfortable as possible with both their baby’s condition and the NICU environment. Parents should learn all they can about NICU equipment and the specific medical conditions their baby is coping with. Parents should get to know the staff providing care, and ask questions when they have them.
Get involved in baby’s care
Premature babies require nappy changes, baths, feedings and all the other general baby care. One of the most important NICU parenting tips is to ask the nurses how you can best help with your baby’s care.
Comfort baby through touch
Premature babies feel most comfortable when they are contained, with their hands brought to the centre and their legs flexed. Premature babies can’t always be swaddled, due to medical equipment, and their muscles are often too weak to allow them to hold a flexed position on their own. Parents can help by using steady touch (don’t stroke, as it can stress preemies) to help their babies stay in a comfortable, flexed position.
Maintain a healing environment
Premature babies need quiet, calm environments so that they can grow and develop. Parents should use quiet voices when they are with their baby and try to keep stimulation to a minimum. Parents can share this parenting tip with others by always using quiet voices around the baby.
Provide breast milk
Breast milk is best for all babies, but it is especially important for preterm babies. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula and provides nutritional and developmental benefits that formula can’t mimic. Even more important, breast milk has been proven to reduce the incidence of NEC, a severe illness that premature babies may get.
Try kangaroo care
When parents have longer periods of time to spend in the NICU and their baby is stable, providing kangaroo care can help baby to maintain a healthy heart rate and breathing pattern, to sleep better and cry less, and to develop better physically and mentally. Kangaroo care involves placing the baby, wearing only a nappy, on mum or dad’s bare chest for periods of usually an hour or more. Wearing a button-down shirt and asking for a comfortable chair can help parents to enjoy this time, which helps mums and dads feel more comfortable with their baby and more confident as parents.