Premature Infant - Getting to Know the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Your role in your infant's care
At first sight, you may question whether and even how to touch your tiny infant. Unless your newborn is very sick or immature, you will be allowed to touch and possibly hold him or her. But your infant's nurse or doctor will first need to show you how to work around the technology and to alert you to your infant's special needs. When visiting with your premature newborn, remember that:
- A premature infant has limited energy for recovering and growing. Try not to wake your infant from sleep.
- A premature newborn's brain isn't quite ready for the world. Be alert to signs that your infant is being overstimulated, such as a change in heart rate or a need to turn away from you. This can be triggered by your gaze, voice, or touch, or by sound and light in the room.
- A stable, more mature preemie will thrive on periods of cuddling (kangaroo care), infant massage, and calming music.
If you're not able to hold or help your infant, you can give him or her an immunity boost by providing breast milk. Regardless of whether you plan to breast-feed or bottle-feed later on, pumped breast milk for tube-feeding reduces your infant's risk of infection.
As your infant grows stronger, you will be able to take on more caregiving tasks. These range from holding and feeding to changing diapers and bathing. You can count on the NICU nurses to teach you and answer your questions. If you are breast-feeding, you may be asked to spend the night with your infant to find out if he or she is strong enough to nurse around the clock.