A study published in a journal Archives de Pédiatrie found that premature babies who held skin to skin every day were less likely to get infections than those held every few days. In his own research, Dr. Vittner has found that holding skin to skin increases the levels of oxytocin in the saliva of parents and babies and reduces cortisol in baby’s saliva. Increasing oxytocin, he said, also helps parents bond with their babies in stressful environments.
Most babies have a small world at first, meeting some family and close friends. However, due to changes in the NICU shift, premature babies can meet up to six new people every day in the first few weeks. “That is why it is very important to have parents partner with us and make parents a constant thing in the lives of the babies,” Dr. Vittner. “Maybe it’s a hand hug, maybe holding your hand around the baby while the nurse is doing her parenting.” You can also tell your baby that you are there by talking to him, touching him as much as possible, changing diapers, measuring his body temperature, and helping take a shower.
If you can attend to the daily medical team round, be there. This is a good time to consult with your baby’s doctor, make observations about your child’s development and ask questions.
Trust your instincts and speak up.
Parents must consider themselves to be important members of their premature baby care team, said Dr. Vittner. He encourages parents to ask lots of questions and get to know their baby’s temperament and cues so they can advocate for babies when needed. For example, he said, don’t be afraid to turn off the lights in your NICU room or ask others to talk calmly if you feel your baby needs to relax. And don’t be afraid to talk. Over and over, he said, when parents feel that something is “dead,” they are right.
Younger premature babies, especially those born before 29 weeks, may need to be fed through a tube or intravenous route initially. Very premature babies do not have the sophisticated oral motor skills needed for breastfeeding, and sucking can use up a lot of energy, says Dr. Tsu-Hsin Howe, Ph.D, an occupational therapist at New York University. “Sometimes it’s not a realistic goal for small, fragile, premature babies,” he said.
But the mother does not have to completely give up the idea of breastfeeding. “In fact, this is more important now than ever, because now your baby needs the benefits of breast milk more than ever before,” said Dr. Bell “The difference is that it may have to be collected by a pump and supplied by a tube.”
Breast milk reduces the likelihood of developing necrotizing enterocolitis, a digestive condition that affects as many as 10 percent of premature babies, where inflammation damages parts of the baby’s intestines.
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