Holding your preemie

Holding your baby for the first time is a magical experience! As the parent of a preterm baby, though, you might not have had a chance to hold your baby yet, and you might still be wondering when you can hold them for the first time. The answer is a little complicated and it depends on a couple of factors, but one thing’s for sure: when it happens, it will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced. 

There are a few things that the NICU staff have to take into account before they can let parents hold their preemie. On the one hand, if a baby isn’t ready, their health could be at risk. On the other hand, preemies benefit from spending some time in a parent’s arms. So, what’s an eager parent to do?

The different ways to hold a preemie 

At first, your preemie might be too young to be held safely in your arms. Preemies born at a certain age have sensitive skin and are more prone to infection, so they can’t be held right away. If this is the case for your baby, you might want to look into other options. Holding your baby in your arms is one way to make meaningful contact with them, but it isn’t the only way – there are actually a few different ways to do this.
  • Comfort holding: This is where a parent reaches into the incubator with clean hands and arms and cradles parts of their baby’s body with their hand. Sometimes babies like to wrap their hands around the parent’s finger, too. Comfort holding has been shown to calm preemies down, soothe them during certain procedures, and improve their responsiveness.
  • Kangaroo care: Also called ‘skin-to-skin contact,’ kangaroo care involves nurses placing a preemie (wearing just a diaper) directly on their parent’s bare chest for a certain amount of time. Sometimes parents are allowed to begin kangaroo care right after their baby is born, but other times babies aren’t quite ready; it really depends on the individual situation. Kangaroo care improves breastfeeding abilities, regulates babies’ heart rate and temperature, decreases rates of infection, and improve sleep patterns, among other things.
  • Touching and holding your baby in the ‘classic’ way: Such as holding them in your arms, rocking them, changing their diaper, and breastfeeding them, among others. It might take some time for a baby to be healthy enough to be held in this way.

Signs of readiness

You might still not know when you’ll be able to hold your preemie, but the NICU staff will be able to help you decide when you and your preemie are ready. Here are some signs that they look for to determine this.
  • A baby might be ready when they are in stable condition, has recovered from any recent surgery, and doesn’t need the humidity of an incubator to regulate their temperature.
  • A parent might be ready when they are healthy, up to date on vaccines, and emotionally ready to hold their baby. It’s important to remember that many parents in the NICU have mixed feelings about holding their baby at first – and that’s okay. What’s important is that you’re there for them.

Staying in touch with your preemie

The NICU staff knows just how much you want to hold your preemie. Ultimately, they’re the ones who will let you know when it’s safe to for all of this to happen. Don’t be afraid to ask your baby’s nurses and doctors when they think you can hold them, though – it’s totally normal to be eager and anxious to get your preemie in your arms.

More information about premature babies

Ovia won’t deliver more articles about premature babies to your timeline, but if you’re interested in reading more articles about your premature baby, you can find them by tapping the three stacked lines in the upper left corner of your app, selecting “Articles,” and typing “preemie” into the search bar.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Premature baby? Understand your preemie’s special needs.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, August 30 2014. Web.
  • “Kangaroo care.” Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Cleveland Clinic, 1995-2015. Web.
  • “Holding Your Baby Close: Kangaroo Care.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, 2016. Web.

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