Parenting A Preemie Baby In The NICU

Having a preemie in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Knowing what to expect and how to contribute and bond with your little one can help you cope with this experience. Keep in mind that you are critical to the health and safety of your preemie, and there are many ways you can contribute to help your baby through this difficult time. While the healthcare professionals might know the machines and medicine, you know your own baby best.

What are all these machines?
All the tubes, noises and complicated machinery may seem a little scary, but they’re all there to keep your preemie safe. Understanding what is what can take a bit of the edge off:

  • The incubator regulates your little one’s body temperature.
  • A nasogastric tube is inserted through your preemie’s nostrils into their stomach to deliver breast milk or formula directly.
  • The monitors taped to your baby’s skin are there to help nurses and doctors track your little one’s vital signs and make sure they’re safe.
  • IV needles provide fluids for hydration and medication to your little one.
  • Oxygen hoods, those clear plastic boxes that fit over a preemie’s head to provide oxygen, are commonly used for immature lungs and any respiratory problems.
  • Some of the more immature preterm babies may be in negative iron balance, in which case an iron supplement is given.

Keep in mind that there are different levels of NICUs – they are rated from level I to III, depending on the level of care and specialized equipment they provide. Depending on your baby’s condition, nurses are assigned to 1-4 babies at a time for close monitoring.

How can I help in the NICU?

  • Insist on taking part in your baby’s care. Even if the nurses aren’t forthcoming with how you can help out, you are allowed to help the nurse in touching and handling your baby, such as changing their nappies, or taking their temperature. This gives you a greater sense of control over their progress.
  • Ask as many questions as possible. Not only will this help you understand what’s going on in the NICU, it will also prepare you for when you take your preemie home. Take a parenting and CPR course if you have the time.
  • Express breast milk as soon as you give birth. Breast milk is the most nutritious milk for preemies and can be given to them via a nasogastric tube until they develop the ability to suckle themselves. It also ensures your breast milk continues to come in.
  • Give the gift of touch. Until your baby’s nervous system is more developed, you might not be encouraged to directly touch their skin or hair. In the meantime, place your hands over their legs, chest and hands, as your preemie will enjoy the light pressure. Once your baby is allowed to leave the incubator for short periods, give them skin-to-skin contact, called kangaroo care.
  • Let them know your voice. Talking to your preemie, reading to them or singing to them all benefits your little one by providing them with familiar voices and sounds; the ones they heard in your womb.

Some more tips to coping during this time:

  • Look to other families in the NICU for support. Knowing that other parents are going through a similar situation can be comforting, and you’ll learn a lot from families who have been there.
  • Document this time. You might feel like you don’t want to remember this period in the future, but document your baby’s development with photos and a journal. When you look back and see how much your baby has grown and how far they’ve come, you’ll be astounded.
  • Make use of the resources available to you. NICUs often provide specialized counselors and social workers to help you during this time. If you need the extra support, don’t be shy to ask.

Disclaimer: Breastfeeding is best for babies. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months. PURITY fully supports this with continued breastfeeding, along with the introduction of complementary food as advised by healthcare professionals.