Caring for Your Baby in the NICU￼
Can I touch my baby?
Touch is very important to your baby and can help soothe/calm him or her. For extremely premature or very sick infants, sleep should be protected for the first several days after birth or if their condition gets worse. As your infant becomes more stable, touch and soothing sounds of their families can improve growth, calm heart rates, and assist your infant with sleeping.
Here are some things you can do to help your baby:
- Hand Hugging: Place your hands at your infant’s head and bottom to provide gentle support. This action can help calm your infant.
- Kangaroo care: Your infant is placed chest to chest with you. Your skin temperature helps keep the baby warm, and in most cases the infant rests well. Your nurse will help you get your baby out of the isolette and can help decide when Kangaroo care is appropriate.
- Hand holding: Touch is very important to your baby. Even simply holding their hand can provide comfort for both you and your baby.
- Infant Massage: Infant massage can be beneficial to comfort your baby and promote growth when he or she is old enough. Please ask your nurse if this would be appropriate for your baby and our NICU therapists can help with this when the time is right.
Can my baby hear?
Hearing is developed in the womb starting around the 3rd week of pregnancy, and at 28 weeks babies begin to process sounds. Appropriate sound is not only soothing but can be very helpful while their brain pathways continue to develop. It is important to protect very young/small babies from too much noise. As your baby grows, they need to hear words, songs and the sounds of their families. You can sing, read or just talk to them during your visit. Sleep is still very important to your growing baby, but if your infant is in an awake state (eyes open), they would love to hear you. (See below for Music Therapy information)
Can my baby smell?
The olfactory system (sense of smell) starts working by 28 weeks gestation and can affect your infant both positively and negatively. We encourage you to avoid perfumes, colognes and strong lotions that may have negative impacts on your infant’s developing system. When using alcohol foam for hand cleansing, allow the foam to dry thoroughly before opening isolette port holes. You can make positive memories with smell as well. Breast milk provided during oral care helps associate maternal scent; Kangaroo care and scent dolls also help promote positive development of the olfactory system.
Can my baby see?
Premature babies may open their eyes some but cannot focus. Light and other things can be stressful to the baby. At around 30 weeks, babies begin to like eye contact, cuddling or quiet talking while they are alert. It is important to watch for signs of stress though. At 40 weeks, babies can focus on objects 8-10 inches from their face. Early in pregnancy, the growing baby is able to sense light through mom’s tummy. This light helps the baby’s eyes develop.
After the baby is born, at first it is important to protect the premature baby from bright light. However, after the baby is stable, the baby needs to safely experience light during the day. This can happen with cycled lighting. Cycled lighting provides light to your baby during the day (sunshine from windows or light from the bulbs).
For rooms with windows, open the shades during the day and pull the isolette cover back. In the evening, cover the isolette again. For rooms without a window, turn the up-lights on in the room during the day and turn them off in the evening. In addition to helping baby’s eyes develop, cycled lighting can improve weight gain and growth as well as reduce fussing and crying.
Other things to remember.
- Check with your nurse to make sure your infant can tolerate touch/sound; this is especially important for infants who are very premature or very sick.
- Some babies can get overstimulated very easily; in these cases it is important to limit the types of interaction with your infant. Watch for signs of over stimulation (listed below) and decrease touch and/or sound if needed.
- Turn down/off your cell phone when you enter the NICU.
- Keep overall conversations/voice volume in the room low, to avoid overstimulation.
- Always clean your hands before and after touching your infant.
- Close the isolette portholes gently (not popping them). Infants may startle with this noise, and it can create anxiety for your little one.
- Turn on the warming curtain to keep your infant warm while the isolette door is open if your baby is on skin temperature control or is really small.
Ways to tell when your infant has had enough stimulation.
- Splaying of hands/fingers
- Turning head away
- Desaturation (Drop in pulse ox)
- Bradycardia (Drop in heart rate)
Don’t forget to take care of yourself after baby is born. Watch for post-birth warning signs