Around 8% of babies are born too soon in Australia. Premature birth is often unexpected and is absolutely heartbreaking for every mum, as well as family and friends.
It may feel really hard to be able to nurture your baby as you want when they are in the neonatal ward, especially with all the strange beeping noises, machines, wires and technology.
Many mums describe how it can feel unnatural to be separated for long periods of time from their baby, as all they have known for the last several months is the feeling of baby being with them.
But you and your baby have grown a very special connection that will last through anything. Even whilst your baby needs to be in the neonatal unit right now you can still grow that special bond and let baby know you are near.
There are several ways in which you can be close to your baby, helping them grow, settle and fall more and more in love with you.
Supporting Your Premature Baby
Never forget that you, mum (and dad/parent/grandparent) are the most important person in your baby’s life. Your presence on the ward can help your baby grow and develop like no other hi-tech equipment!
Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most powerful… and the simple act of holding your baby in skin to skin contact, (sometimes known as Kangaroo care) each day can have some of the most amazing benefits for your baby and for you.
Holding your baby in skin to skin contact can be done with even the smallest of babies, even those having respiratory support and those babies who are not well, as long as they are considered “stable” by their doctor.
Holding your baby for long lengths of time allows baby to settle down after being moved from their humidicrib or cot and settle back into their sleep patterns.
While your baby is being held in skin to skin contact, you will notice that her breathing calms and regulates. You may see on their oxygen monitor that their oxygen saturations increase and their heart rate slows.
Just by holding your baby, you can regulate their entire body! It has been clearly shown in many studies just how beneficial it is to hold babies in this way.
The longer parents hold their baby each day in skin to skin contact, the better the results; from increasing weight, coming off medicines earlier, breastfeeding earlier and going home earlier! All this from such a simple yet rewarding and lovely therapy.
Many mums worry that when their baby is stripped naked before being placed next to their skin that their temperature will decrease too much. Actually, many studies have shown that a mum’s temperature can go up by 2 degrees if her baby is cold and needs to warm up! Instead of making babies cold, this therapy keeps babies the warmest!
Skin to Skin Contact Can Help with Breastfeeding
The other amazing thing this simple yet beautiful therapy can do is to increase your milk supply. A hormone called Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone or love hormone. Oxytocin helps your milk to “let down” and flow.
Oxytocin is present in our bodies particularly when we feel in love or happy. Holding our babies in skin to skin contact really boosts this hormone. So, when mums breastfeed or express they find that their milk flows much easier! This hormone doesn’t just help milk to flow, it is also where that lovely warm and fuzzy feeling comes from. Your baby gets a boost of this feel good hormone every time they are near you, and even more in skin to skin contact.
Studies have also shown that babies who are held in skin to skin contact regularly will start to breastfeed earlier and breastfeed better and longer than when not held in skin to skin contact.
Try placing your baby in skin to skin contact at least 60-minutes before their feed is due. This gives baby time to have a boost of feel good hormones and to wake up… and hey presto, baby wakes up in the kitchen ready for lunch!
After a feed, keep baby on your chest and let them rest, digest and drift off to sleep. They will then be in the right place for the next feed!
Skin to Skin Contact is Good for Mum Too!
Skin to skin contact is not only beneficial for babies. Studies have shown how mums who regularly hold their baby in skin to skin contact in the neonatal unit have reduced cortisol levels (stress hormone), felt more confident handling and caring for their baby as well as reduced rates of postnatal depression.
Before holding your baby in skin to skin contact, make sure you get prepared. Go to the toilet, get a drink and find something to read or listen to. This way, you can hold your baby comfortably for several hours.
If they have a partner or grandparent on hand, some mums like to share the skin to skin contact to prolong the time baby is held for as long as possible. This also makes it easier to have a bathroom and food break, essentials!
Some mums cannot hold their baby until they are more stable. This may be days or even weeks after birth for some babies. Even if your baby is not yet ready to be held in skin to skin contact, having nurturing, regular touch from you is still very important.
Baby can still stare lovingly into your eyes and hear your voice which they have grown used to whilst in your tummy. All nurturing touch helps to calm your baby, allows your bond to develop and continue growing, and will clearly send them signals of how much you love them.
Embrace the Power of the Sense of Smell
Another way of bonding and having closeness with your baby is by using our sense of smell. Baby has been surrounded in amniotic fluid for months, which tastes and smells similar to colostrum!
Babies love the smell of you, just as much as you love the smell of them, so try taking a piece of your baby’s bedding or clothing home each day. Snuggle and sleep with it, and breathe in that gorgeous smell of bub. When you return the bedding, or clothing your lovely scent will be there for baby to snuggle into helping them to relax and calm at times when you cannot be in the unit.
Smell also works to increase your milk supply; try closing your eyes and smelling your baby’s clothing just before you express your milk. It will boost that important love hormone oxytocin, helping your milk to flow.
Your Baby Absolutely Loves Being Held by You
Your baby knows everything about you; all their senses have been “mum” for as long as they have been around. Now they are out in the big wide world, and all they want to do is snuggle into you, smell you, hear the solid and grounding beat of your heart, look lovingly into your eyes and get to know you on the outside.
Your baby has been waiting a long time to be able to see you, and now all their senses are surrounded and calmed by you. Nurturing touch, by those we love the most, is the most comforting thing we can have.
Eventually, you will be able to hold your baby, once they are stable enough. Until then, every time your baby hears you, smells you or feels you they are getting better, bigger and stronger.
Never underestimate the power of love and nurturing. Being close to your baby is not a simple “nice to have” – it is proven to help your baby.
What breastfeeding questions do you have? Do you know anyone who had a premature baby? What was their experience like? Please join the conversation here or on our Medela Australia Facebook page.