Do You Facilitate Or Inhibit Infant-Parent Bonding In The NICU?

By Sue Ludwig

I can’t imagine what it’s like to parent in the NICU. But I’ve been taught by many parents that their needs are not unlike most new parents.

They want to touch, hold, console and care for their baby. They’re just not always sure how to do these things in light of ventilators, lines and bili lights. They want to help, but often report feeling ‘in the way’.

Picture this: a mom is learning how to change her daughter’s diaper. She’s not a first-time mom, but a first time NICU mom – a whole different journey. She’s (re)learning this ‘task’ while her daughter is ventilated. She is being taught by a nurse who is motivated to facilitate this experience. This nurse has taught many mothers and knows the incredible competence and confidence this seemingly simple activity creates.

But often as NICU professionals we unknowingly impede this learning process. We forget momentarily what it might be like to stand at our baby’s bedside and feel helpless to comfort her or change her or hold her. To feel like we must ask permission to parent.

Do you see yourself as a facilitator or inhibitor to bonding and parent learning in your NICU? Sometimes we just need a reminder. A nudge to look up from the everyday schedule and caseload and remember the deeper reason we’re there. Maybe this will help.

Ask yourself these simple questions: 

1) Do I educate all new parents about skin to skin holding/ Kangaroo Care and encourage them to engage in this beneficial activity early and often?

2) During care or therapeutic intervention/observation do I always include the parent in what I see? Do I teach them the best way to touch, hold, and feed their baby?

3) Do I foster parental independence and autonomy or inhibit it by my words, actions, and NICU culture?

4) When is the last time I scheduled out time simply to educate parents on their baby’s current developmental status/milestones? Today, yesterday, or months ago?

5) How would I feel if a professional told me what my baby’s cues were instead of working along with me to discover them from the beginning?

6) When was the last time I acknowledged that some of my favorite moments in the NICU have been when I’ve spent ample time facilitating parent-infant bonding, communication, and joy?

You have immense power to foster and support infants and parents as they begin a lifelong relationship. Choose to be a facilitator.

It feels good down to your core.

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