Premature Babies: In the Hospital
Rarely do parents anticipate leaving the hospital after the birth of their child without their newborn. Unfortunately, when a baby is born prematurely, this is what happens. Often, the child is whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before you even have a chance to say hello. Although it is almost always in the premature child’s best interest to get them the medical attention they need right away, to parents it can signal the beginning of a very difficult and stressful road that they now must travel on.
Not knowing what is going on with your baby can make the experience of having a premature baby incredibly intimidating. It is important to read and educate yourself as much as you can about the hospital care of children in NICUs. Understanding just what is going on can help ease some of your fears.
Never be afraid to pose questions to the nurses, neonatologists, and pediatricians looking after your baby. If you don’t understand what they are doing or why they are doing it, ask. If you don’t agree with something, calmly raise your objection. Perhaps there is another option that you would prefer or the procedure simply hasn’t been properly explained to you.
Because parents have such a lack of control over their infant’s care when they are in the NICU, it can be frustrating and even cause a parent to feel like a failure. To help yourself feel more proactive in the situation, ask questions to the staff and get as involved as you can.
Many parents of premature babies like to get involved in the daily, physical care of their child while they are in NICU. Not only can this help parents feel more like a parent and in charge, but it can also help the bonding process between you and your child.
There are many simple, little tasks that you can perform for your child. Bathing them, changing their diaper, changing some of their tubes, wiping their mouth to keep it free of secretions, and even taking their temperature are some of the small chores that you or your partner can perform.
However, often parents are apprehensive of touching their child because a premature baby seems so small and fragile. Additionally, since premature children often feel more floppy and weak before 32 weeks than full term babies, tasks like changing their diaper can present parents with a whole new set of challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to show you what to do or for help. They’ll often stay with you to ensure that you are performing the care properly until you feel comfortable without their help.
The healing power of touch is an amazing thing, especially when it comes to the development of infants. Loving touches and caresses can help your premature baby gain weight and develop faster thereby contributing to an earlier discharge from the hospital.
In 1983, doctors at a hospital in Bogota, Columbia developed a form of care that has since been dubbed Kangaroo Care. It is the very simple task of a parent sitting with their diaper-clad child on their bare chest, with the child’s head turned to the side so that the ear is just above the heart. Parents are encouraged to sit with their child from anywhere between one and three hours to maximize the skin-to-skin contact.
This method of holding a child has been found to help soothe both full-term and preterm colicky babies, improve respiratory problems in newborns, regulate body temperature, encourage spontaneous breastfeeding, and help premature babies gain weight faster which helps lead to an earlier release from the hospital.
However, other studies have found Kangaroo Care to have no effect on the child. Regardless, the skin-to-skin contact with your child causes them no harm and can help improve the bond between you and your baby. While many hospitals encourage Kangaroo Care, you may need to ask the staff if there is a quite, private space where you and your child can sit together.
Comforting touch can make a world of difference to babies in NICUs. Gentle but firm massaging of premature infants has been found in numerous studies to help increase weight gain as well as improve overall development. Massaging your premature baby for 15 minutes, three times a day can help them gain up to 50% more weight faster.
Studies have shown that babies who are massaged regularly not only score better on motor control and sociability tests, but they are also released from the hospital, on average, six days earlier than premature babies who do not receive regular massages. To help the bonding experience even more, try to make eye contact and talk to your baby while you massage them.
Staying up-dated on the care of your premature baby can be difficult if you constantly have to deal with a different nurse. To make your life easier, ask to have a contact nurse. This is someone who will be part of the team looking after your child allowing them to be familiar with you and your baby. A contact nurse can provide you with the information that you need when you need it. They may even go that extra step to call you at home in order to involve you in decisions about your child’s care.
When your baby is in the hospital, you may feel guilty if you’re not there all the time. While it is definitely important to be with your premature infant as much as you possible, the entire experience can take its toll on you. It’s important to realize that you need a break once in awhile and you shouldn’t feel remorseful if you are not by your child’s side 24 hours a day. If it makes you feel better, then ask another family member to go to the hospital in your place. This way, you know that your baby is still receiving lots of loving attention.
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