Bonding is Never Premature

Bonding with your preemie baby in the NICU may take time, but like your child it will grow for a lifetime.

By Kristine Repino

"I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your visit today. I can't wait until you come to hold me in your arms again."

I think it is important to understand that bonding is a process that takes time. You undoubtedly love your child from the moment he's born or perhaps from the moment you find out your are pregnant; however, after visiting him day after day in the NICU you might not feel connected to your baby the way you anticipated.

For me, I was unfamiliar with Jacob's needs, and the bond we shared seemed to be overshadowed by our circumstance. I didn't understand it then, but he attachment between a parent and a child doesn't always occur in a one magical moment after birth. It's a wonderful, lifelong process; and for parents of a preemie, the circumstances make it even more difficult. It doesn't mean you don't love him; the difference is you haven't been given the same opportunity to feel close to him. After all, he is most likely hooked up to machines and not allowed to be held outside his isolette for more than just a e minutes at a time. This is not the ideal circumstance for getting to know each other.

After a short while, time will be on your sited and will provide you with more opportunities to get to know your little one. Here are some ideas to help you feel more comfortable with him and him with you. Bring things in to make his cubbyhole more pleasant looking. If permitted, bring anything from home that will personalize his stay however long it may be. Bring in pictures of his family (take some of him, too) and tape them on his isolette. You might bring in your favorite blanket or pictures to brighten up his little area. Make sure ahead of time what is acceptable and what's not. There are other ways to minimize the negative feelings of what I call part-time parenthood. The easiest way is to simply talk to your baby as you hold him. If you find it difficult having a one-sided conversation with your speechless little wonder, bring in a tape recording of your voice or of music. Reading to your baby may be reserved for the parent who doesn't get stage fright, but your baby is sure to be a good audience!

Don't feel foolish if your efforts aren't met with enthusiasm - these are your first efforts toward parenting. As much as the nurses would love to cuddle your baby all day long (I've known lots of nurses who wish they could), they have a lot to do themselves to make sure our baby is thriving. All efforts, however small, are a big part of the bonding process that you and your baby both need. You might find the nurses supporting you in every attempt to "parent" your child. The most important thing is that you take the initiative to be involved in any way you can.

Many things are done routinely in the day to day care of babies in the NICU. Some of them you might be abel to assist with. Because the body temperature of a preemie can rise and fall depending on his environment, the nurse will take your baby's temperature each time he is taken out of the isolette. As he grows closer to his expected due date, he will be able to hold his body temperature more steadily. In the meantime, you can take his temperature each time you come to visit him.

I remember the first time I took Jacob's temperature, I was so nervous I don't' think I even got a reading! However, from that moment on, this proved to be one way I could feel involved in this care. Incidentally, I took his temperature every time I came to see him.

Holding your baby skin to skin (kangaroo care) is a great way to feel close and the benefits for him are even greater. Studies show Kangaroo Care provides stability of heartbeat and breathing, increase in weight gain, and of having more dep sleep and quiet alert time. If you plan on breastfeeding, mothers who practice skin to skin contact for just a few minutes a day, tend to have more success with lactation and better milk supply. Skin to skin contact isn't just for moms though. The benefits for dad and baby are great too. Remembering that you, the parent, have a vital role in your baby's overall development can make a difference for you, and for your baby.

Kristine Repino is the mother of three, her oldest son was born prematurely weighing just under 3 pounds. This article is excerpted with author permission from Jacob's Journal. Copyright Kristine Repino.