Bonding is about responding to your baby’s needs with love, warmth and care. When you do this, you become a special, trusted person in your baby’s life. You help your baby feel safe and secure. This lays the foundation for all areas of your baby’s development.
Bonding happens over time, but it’s built on everyday moments – things like smiling at your baby, touching them, using loving words and responding to their needs.
Bonding with sick or premature babies in the NICU
It can take time for you to feel bonded with your sick or premature baby.
This is natural when your baby needs to be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). You might not be able to hold, see or even visit your baby as much as you’d like early on, especially if you live far away from the hospital or have older children to care for. The worry about your baby’s health might also get you down and make it hard for you to feel positive.
But there’s a lot you can do in the NICU to feel close to your baby and develop a bond.
Tips for bonding with sick or premature babies in the NICU
Here are some ideas to help you and your sick or premature baby bond while they’re in the NICU.
Touch and hold your baby
Touching, holding and massaging your baby can help your baby feel calm, cared for and supported. For example, you could hold your baby’s hand or cup their feet. If your baby is ready, you can do kangaroo care – holding your baby skin to skin.
Your baby will learn that they can rely on you to help them feel calm, especially during procedures or at other times when they’re feeling stressed.
Learn your baby’s body language
Babies use body language to show how they’re feeling.
Over time, you’ll learn how to tune into your baby’s body language. You’ll start to know whether they want closeness or have had enough stimulation. The hospital staff can also help you start reading your baby’s signs.
Play with your baby
Playing with your baby helps your baby develop. It also helps your baby:
- get to know you
- feel loved and secure
- learn about relationships and comfort
- learn about the physical environment they can see, hear, feel and smell.
While your baby is in the NICU, play can be making faces, singing, smiling and reading to them. Always pay close attention to your baby’s body language so you know when they’ve had enough.
Share your smell
Holding your baby is a fantastic way to help your baby recognise your smell. If you can’t do that yet, you could put something that smells of you in your baby’s incubator – for example, a t-shirt.
Check that it’s OK with your baby’s doctor first. Avoid using perfume or scented deodorant because these can interfere with your baby getting to know your smell.
Doing things in a similar way helps your baby recognise that you’re the special, consistent person in their day. For example, saying or doing the same thing each time you’re about to do kangaroo care gives your baby the cue that something pleasant is about to happen. They’ll start to feel secure about you and your way of being with them.
Breastmilk is good for your baby’s growth and development. Expressing breastmilk or supporting your partner to express breastmilk is an important thing you can do for your child in the NICU.
Care for your baby
Your baby’s care team will show you how to care for your baby. You can help to wash your baby’s face, change nappies or reposition your baby. Through caring for your baby, you’ll start to feel a part of your baby’s life, and they’ll learn to recognise you. You’ll also learn how to handle your baby in the ways they like best.
Look after yourself
If you have a baby in the NICU, it can be stressful for you. It’s OK to feel many different emotions. Looking after yourself in the NICU and accepting your feelings is good for your wellbeing. And when you’re well, you’ll be better able to care for and bond with your baby.
Repeated human contact through touch, cuddling, talking, singing and facial expressions will help your baby’s brain to develop. This also makes your baby’s brain produce chemicals and hormones that help your baby grow emotionally and physically.