How can you help your child
Go to the baby as often as possible and try to establish and maintain the closest possible contact with them both physical, by fondling them, and psychological, by talking and singing of songs. Talk to the baby. He/she may not understand the language in the way a man who has already mastered it does, but they certainly recognise your voice, your body odour and the taste of your milk. The baby feels your presence.
The power of words
If you can, tell him/her the story of his/her birth. Talk to him/her about his/her brothers and sisters (if any). Fransoise Dolto, a children’s psychoanalyst, says that a wound can be cured or rather overcome through true words said by somebody who has been approved by the child’s mother or father, and the child knows this, and who talks to him/her about the ordeal they have gone through... Only the word can make the child regain symbolically his/her internal harmony... It may be amazing, but children, babies, newborns understand the words said to them, although we do not know how, intended to tell them the truth which concerns them; words that tell what somebody knows about facts without evaluating them.
Miriam Sager, a children’s psychoanalyst, working in a neonatal unit in France, advises parents to observe when the baby will open his/her eyes and seek contact. When the baby shows that he/she is tired, the parents stand by the (neonatal) incubator without bothering him/her. In Bulgaria, it is not a practice to accept the baby as a person and subject from his/her very birth, but this demonstrably helps for the faster recovery of the baby, as well as for his/her further psychomotor development
How can you help your baby?
Your basic parental instincts make you protect and keep the newborn baby. When your baby is in the hospital, it is possible to have the feeling that your relationship with your child has been broken and that it is impossible to fulfil your parental obligations.
Many of the parents feel separated from their children and upset. The feeling of being separated may torment you even when you are standing by the incubator.
One of your big responsibilities as a parent is to make important decisions about the treatment of, and necessary care for your child. It will be best for your child if you have the possibility to work together with the doctors and nurses in charge of his/her treatment.
Insist on being informed, do not hesitate to ask questions, ask for a second opinion and express your opinion on matters related to your child’s treatment.
What can you do?
You can do many things to ensure the comfort of and good care for your baby:
- Provide assurance to your baby by touching and talking to him/her, and by letting him/her feel your body odour.
- Provide breast milk to your baby. In the beginning, express your breast milk. Put the baby to the breast as soon as possible.
- Participate in the care for your baby. Change his/her diapers, wash him/her, do everything that is within your power and what you are allowed to do.
- Learn ways of promoting your child’s physical development.
- Get the baby familiar with his/her siblings, grandmothers and grandfathers.
Privacy, peace and quiet
Your baby needs peace and quiet in order to rest and start growing up. Quiet helps the baby relax and not to be afraid so much.
Unfortunately, in reality hospitals are not very quiet places. Hospital staff and visitors come and go, different tests, medical examinations and procedures are carried out; the sound of monitors and alarms does not stop at all. Some neonatal units are packed with incubators placed one next to the other and there is not enough space for the parents.
Neonatal units could maintain a favourable and peaceful environment for the baby in the following manner:
- Reduce the light intensity at night and protect the children from bright light as much as possible. In a number of neonatal units, factory covers are put on the incubators, which protect from the light. The covers are always placed in a way that will not stop the nurses from watching your baby.
- Protect the babies from the loud and continuous sound of apparatuses.
- Keep the level of human voice noise low in the wards.
- Plan quiet hours for the babies and their parents.
Neonatal units could respect the needs of the babies and their families by doing the following:
- Provide privacy at certain meal times, cuddle the baby and perform medical procedures. A good variant for this purpose is a separate room or provision of private space through curtains in case your baby needs constant supervision.
- The staff in the ward may require parents not to peep into the incubators of other babies who have no relatives with them.
- Provide a secluded place, where you can discuss your baby’s condition and their therapy with the medical staff.
Synchronise with the baby
It is important that your baby come to know you with all his/her senses, remember your smell, your voice and your tender touch. This allows the baby to know when you are around.
However, there will be days when your baby is very tired and you had better limit your contacts with him/her to the minimum. The more your baby’s condition improves, the more rarely this will happen. There might be days when you would not even be able to hold your baby’s hand. Perhaps he/she feels better when he/she feels your smell. Try to hold a soft toy or a piece of cloth close to your skin for some time and ask the nurses if you can place it in the incubator with the baby. Ask them if it is possible to sit and talk to the baby.
Sometimes the whole equipment in the ward may be extremely annoying. Yet try to disregard it. Focus on your baby as much as possible. Remember that the nurses’ job involves constant checking of the monitors and you can feel free to devote your whole time to care for the baby and to the process of getting to know each other. Thus, you will learn how to recognise your baby’s needs and guess when the baby is pleased and when he/she is not comfortable and is stressed.
Even if your baby is very sick or fragile, you can provide tenderness and comfort to him/her. Ask the nurses to show you how to recognise the signs showing you when the baby is calm and feels comfortable, and when he/she is tense, hypersensitive or when he/she feels uncomfortable.
The comforting touch is one of the numerous ways of allowing you and the baby to get to know each other. It allows you to feel tenderness and love on touching the baby even if he/she is not ready to be carried in your arms.
In case it is safer for the baby to be in an incubator, it is possible, provided they think he/she is well enough, that the nurses offer you to try a comforting touch. Putting the baby to sleep with calm and motionless hands might be more comforting to him/her than caressing or massaging, because they are more stimulating.
The comforting touch can:
- Calm your baby during unpleasant procedures;
- Calm him/her when he/she is restless;
- Help your baby get to sleep again after a meal, bathing or changing diapers.
You should always talk to the nurses before you try the comforting touch. They can show you how to do it exactly.
- Before you begin, remove your watch and jewellery, roll your sleeves below the elbow and wash your hands well. This will reduce the risk of introducing infection into the incubator.
- Always make sure that your hands are warm before you put them on the baby.
- Talk to the baby before you touch him/her. Let him/her understand that it is you before you have started.
- Put one or both your hands round the baby’s feet, head or body. Keep them still.
- The baby may like to hold some of your fingers.
- You can continue holding him/her as long as both of you can feel comfortable. Watch for signs showing that the baby is tired or wants you to stop.
- When you finish, remove your hands slowly in order not to startle him/her.
Prematurely born and sick babies go through a number of medical procedures, which may cause them discomfort. As their parents, you are the right people who could compensate their discomfort by creating a positive and encouraging bond between yourselves. Do this immediately after you feel you are ready and confident enough to create it. The positive bond is what will allow you to give your baby love and confidence, as well as to feel his/her needs. Babies can communicate. Watching and listening to your baby, you can make him/her feel protected, calm and pleased.
It is harder for the baby to communicate when he/she is exposed to so much light and noise or if he/she is in an uncomfortable body position. In this case, first check if it is possible for the surrounding environment to get a little more peaceful. In the course of time, you will come to know your baby’s reactions and will see that he/she responds more and more often and for longer periods.
K.N., mother of Alex, born in 30th gestation week.