You are the most important person in your baby's life. When a baby is born earlier than planned or if a baby is born full-term and is sick, things did not turn out as expected for the new parents.
The baby is in an unfamiliar environment and is dependent on people with whom he/she is not familiar. Parents may recognize their baby's daily rhythm from when it was in the womb and the baby recognizes its parents voices, they are familiar and provide a sense of security for the baby. But now you need to truly get to know one another, as well as your baby's personality and temperament. All newborn babies communicate with the world around them using body language. When a baby is sick or has been born prematurely, it can be more difficult for the baby to communicate what it wants and likes.
The staff is here to guide you until you can give your baby the support and help it needs. Even though our expertise is necessary for the baby's care, we work in shifts, so we come and go. It is a baby's parents who are the permanent fixtures in its life.
Everyone is different, some people find it easier to handle unexpected and upsetting events, which others may have a lot of trouble dealing with. Having your baby cared for on a neonatal ward is upsetting, and it can be like a grieving process because things did not turn out as you had expected. Some parents want to be involved immediately in their baby's care, while others want to wait a little while and just look at their baby, explore and take in what the baby looks like. Does he/she resemble anyone in the family? Does he/she have any features from a family member? Look at, touch and smell the baby. Gently lay your hands or hand on the baby, premature babies may find it uncomfortable to be caressed as their nervous systems are not yet fully developed.
We want you to be involved in your baby's care as soon as you feel able. There is no hurry, you can take the time you need to learn what needs to be done. Keep in mind that it is not just the tasks you are performing that matters, the important thing is how your baby responds, what the baby is capable of, and what help and support the baby needs. Watch and observe what the baby reveals through its behaviour, provide support with your hands, the bedding and your voice, give the baby plenty of breaks, providing support around him/her for recovery if the baby shows signs of anxiety or grows tired due to its exertions. Talk to the staff about your baby's behaviour and needs.
Use the diary you received from the staff and write down what your baby is doing, so you can follow your baby's development and your baby will have a book of their own about the early stages of their life.
When you feel that you and your baby have got to know one another a little, it can be helpful for us if you fill in the sheet, "I like/I don't like/we parents want". It provides the staff with important information about your baby and when you think something has changed, you can ask for a new sheet to update the staff about what you and your baby would like.
Signs that your baby is feeling fine:
- The baby has a peaceful, relaxed expression
- The baby's breathing is not strained
- The baby tries to do or does the following:
- Move its arms and legs closer to its body
- Bring its hands to its mouth, searches and sucks
- Grab and hold its hands, your finger or an object
- Put its feet together or against the bed
- Move in a calm and relaxed manner
- Calm down and sleep peacefully
- The baby's skin colour remains the same despite any exertion
Your baby shows that it is feeling over-exerted and may need support or a break when:
- It has a tense or worried expression
- Its breathing is strained
- Its body is tense or flaccid
- It is lying with its legs and arms out-stretched
- Jerks and/or quivers a lot
- It yawns, coughs or sneezes repeatedly
- It seems to feel unwell, whimpers, spits or vomits even though it has not taken too much breast milk/baby formula
- It is fretting and finds it difficult to settle
- Its skin colour changes, it becomes pale, dark or mottled
Your baby can manage different levels of activity on different occasion.
The more premature and/or sick your baby is, the more support it will need. As your baby develops and becomes healthier, it will need less support and more stimulation. You will soon recognize what your baby can manage and find ways of coping with their situation.
How your hands, voice and smell can help your baby
With your hands you can support and help your baby. By putting your hands gently on or around your baby, you will make your baby aware that you are there. The baby will then be able to wake up calmly with your support. If your baby is fretting, you can try to calm the baby by putting your hands around the baby and keeping them still. See if he or she wants to hold your finger.
When the baby has calmed down and has fallen asleep under your hands, gently remove them. You can give your baby support using your voice. Talk quietly to your baby. It will recognize your voice and can wake up in response to it and fall asleep to it. When your baby is fretting, try to talk calmly to it while gently holding it.
Sometimes your baby may need to take a break. Try letting it rest for a while before continuing to care for or interact with your baby.
If your baby is in your arms being fed or breastfed, you can give the baby a break so its energy does not flag. Lift the baby up and hold him/her close to you before you continue feeding/breastfeeding.
Let the baby have a soft piece of cloth close by to smell and hold, preferably something you have had against your skin. It will give your baby the opportunity to recognize your smell when the time comes to engage in skin-to-skin contact.
Make your baby's cot like a little nest, so it can feel support all around it and still have room to move.
Help your baby bring its hands to its mouth. It helps the baby feel safe. Perhaps your baby wants to suck its hand? Even premature babies like to suck their hands or a little dummy.