Know When to Hold Them

Provide comforting care for your baby by learning his distress signs.

By Kristine Repino

Don't be startled by your baby's reactions to the outside world. Understanding them is the key. Your baby's movements will be unlike those of a full-term newborn. He will move his arms and legs about but his movements will be jerky at first. One second he might stiffen his whole body and the next moment he'll go limp. This is because his nervous system is immature. Your baby will let you know if something is wrong. Like other infants, one way he will do this is by crying. But here are other signals that can let you know what's going on. When he becomes over stimulated he'll let you know by stiffening his arms and legs, looking away, or maybe spitting up or vomiting. You may want to hold him quietly without talking or even give him some time alone; but he always needs your love and affection. It is not you that he is rejecting and not all stimulation is bad.

Knowing his signals can also tell you when he likes something. Sometimes he'll really enjoy being held and talked to. When his arms and legs are relaxed, his eyes are opened wide and his face is bright, or his skin color is good can tell you that he's happy. You should remember what it is you did so the next time you see him you can try it again As the days wear on in the NICU, his movements will become less frantic and jerky. He will respond more like a full-term newborn.

There are instances where medical considerations will limit your involvement. One example maybe how long your baby is able to be out of the isolette (incubator) during a visit. Other times, you may be not be able to hold him at all. What I found frustrating were the warming lights that towered over me as I held Jacob. They were invasive and extremely warm. Jacob would keep his eyes closed until the timer on the lights would go off; but then it was time to put him back in to the isolette.

What does it matter in the long run if he had to be bundled from head to toe or you weren't able to hold him once or twice? The long-term benefits of heeding such stipulations are sure to outweigh the immediate intrusions on you and your baby's time together. The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to value your time together. These endless days will pass and soon the saddest of remembrances will be a distant memory.

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, Evidence of Hope