The First Bath - Caring for Our Preemie in the NICU

Bathing our preemie connected us as a family.

By William H. Woodwell, Jr.

It was bathing Josie more than anything else that made us start to feel connected to our daughter. On June 29, Josie's one-month birthday, we bathed her for the first time ourselves. Instead of washcloths or a sponge, we used Q-tips and 2-by-2-inch gauze pads that we wet with water. With Josie still lying on her warming bed and still connected to the ventilator, the cardio-respiratory monitor, and everything else, we dabbed softly with the pads and swabs at our 2-pound girl, exploring every contour and crevice of her little body for the first time. I remember thinking it was like cleaning a precious painting or fresco, meticulously covering every inch but never wanting to rub too hard, never wanting to disturb.

When we had finished cleaning Josie's front, the nurse turned her over for us so we could do her back. Because this involved unhooking the ventilator and reattaching it once Josie's head was in this new position, the procedure caused her oxygen saturations to drop and her oximeter alarm to sound. She recovered quickly once she was settled into her new position, and we were able to resume.

From time to time, I'd look up and notice that all the nurses were watching us. One of them told us later that what we were doing looked more like an all-over body massage than a bath. Whatever it was, Josie clearly enjoyed the experience as much as we did. She stayed calm throughout, and her oxygen saturations hovered at or near 100 the entire time; it was rare to see them stay so high for so long.

The bath was our first true indication that our baby was responsive to our touch in a positive way. Too often, the nurses said, NICU babies are agitated by any kind of touch, any kind of stimulation. They have been poked and prodded so much by so many people that they associate all human contact with bad things. This is why touching an holding them early - as early as possible - is so important.

William H. Woodwell, Jr. is the father of a child born prematurely and the author of Coming to Term.. Copyright 2001. Excerpted with permission of the publisher Univerity Press of Mississippi from the book "Coming to Term" by William H. Woodwell, Jr.