Preemie Parenting: Feeling Like A Mom When Your Baby Is In NICUBaby
As the parent of a baby born prematurely, you have the singular experience of feeling that the fulfillment of your parenting dreams has been deferred. Instead of bringing home a snuggly infant in a car seat, your brow feels permanently knitted in concern as medical professionals monitor your precious little one in a plastic box around the clock.
It's so hard to feel that you haven't yet been able to slip into your instinctive role as a parent. Here are some reminders that you are a real parent, a wonderful parent, and you can be there in that role for your child even while they are under medical supervision.
Be Present for Your Baby
Not just sitting by their bedside – although that is a wonderfully helpful thing to do as well. Being present for your baby also means emotionally, holding space for them to fight. Although you know, deep down in your gut, that a premature birth was not your fault and there was nothing you could have done differently to prevent it, what if your dear heart still struggles and whispers guilt and worry: was there something? Of all people, you have your baby's interest most in mind and you know you would do anything for them; OWN that.
Touch and Hold Your Baby
Don't stress too much over missing out on early physical bonding moments. You can provide vital touch to your baby in the NICU and build that foundation little by little. However, keep in mind that your baby's condition and gestational age may influence how much contact you can have at this point. A mildly to moderately premature baby (30 to 36 weeks' gestational age) may be stable enough that you can do kangaroo care; skin-to-skin time nestled on your bare chest and tummy. An extremely premature or micropreemie baby (less than 26 weeks to 29 weeks) may require breathing help and other interventions that preclude holding them kangaroo-style right now. In fact, a micropreemie's skin can be so delicate, that it isn't developed enough yet for the “rigors” of stroking and holding. Your baby's care team will be able to advise you on how much and how often to safely touch and hold them.
Sing and Talk to Your Baby
If your baby's condition precludes physical contact at this stage, the next best thing is for them to hear your voice. They recognize your voice, your spouse or partner's voice, and even other family members' voices from being inside the womb. Talk to them, tell them how much you love them and can't wait for them to come home, and sing familiar lullabies. Even their dad or grandparents can bond with the baby this way and help them grow stronger.
Pump For Your Baby
If your parenting plan includes breastfeeding, you can help your baby by pumping early and often to provide milk in the NICU. A premature baby often isn't developed enough yet to suckle at the breast, and may even require a feeding tube. Using clean hands and sanitized pump attachments and bottles, you can express colostrum and milk to nourish your baby during their NICU stay. Your lactation consultant can advise you on how often and how long to use the pump.
Advocate for Your Baby
Although the medical professionals are trained to monitor your baby's care and assist in their progress, you're the parent and your watchful eye paired with your natural instincts are your baby's biggest champion. If at any time you are unsure of something going on with your baby, or if you feel that any aspect of their care needs to be checked up on, always be assured that it is your right and responsibility to make sure your baby has everything they need to keep growing and progressing safely.
Parenting a premature baby in the NICU is one of the toughest challenges a parent can experience but the knowledge that you are the best parent and natural advocate for your baby will comfort you, strengthen you, and guide you through to the other side.
Loree Siermachesky works as a multi-certified labour and postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years. She is well-known and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. She cares deeply for this profession and even more for her clientele, honoring them in whatever method of birth they choose, or helping them transition to new parenthood as they wish.