Most units operate a 24 hour visiting policy for parents, and a short visiting time in the day for family members; this is to allow the baby time to sleep with little or no disturbance. Most units now have a ‘quiet time’ where the lights are dimmed, curtains closed and staff have little interaction with them too, to allow the baby time to have some quiet and uninterrupted sleep to help them to grow.
Babies on the unit do benefit from physical contact from their parents, it is important that they get to know their parents voice, touch, smell and parents are encouraged to spend time with their baby getting to know them and bonding with each other.
Spending time on the unit will help you bond with your baby, and although there is a small amount you can do for your baby, sometimes holding them/kangaroo care, feeding, bathing or nappy changing), is enough to help the bond between parent and baby, and also increase the amount of milk the mother produces when she is close to her baby.
Some babies may not be able to be held for long periods of time, due to breathing apparatus, or due to infection or illness, or temperature control, but staff on the neonatal unit, will always try to let you spend as much time holding and cuddling your baby as possible. If you are not able to hold your baby in your arms straight away, you could always touch their hand or foot: your baby will know that you are there.
Fathers of premature babies
A lot of fathers feel that they are missing out on the care of their babies whilst on the neonatal unit, especially those who are only eligible for two weeks paternity leave. Looking after older siblings, keeping a job and remaining ‘strong’ for their partners are all things that fathers feel that they are ‘responsible’ for and it can be a very tough time.
It is important, that fathers are able to spend time with their baby on the unit. Health professionals are aware of the hard time that fathers face, and they are encouraged to help with the baby’s ‘cares’ and are able to play an active role in both the emotional and practical side of caring for their baby.
by Michelle, mum to Joshua, Alexa and Nathan