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Caring for premature babies

Advice on caring for your premature baby with information on the importance of breastfeeding, coping with your baby's treatment and finding support from other parents.
All babies need cuddling and touching, whether they are in the ward close by you or in an NNU. If your baby is in an NNU, you and your partner should try to be with your baby as much as possible. Encourage other members of your family to visit too, to get to know the baby, if this is possible. When you first go into the NNU you may be put off by all the machines and apparatus. Ask the nurse to explain what everything is for and to show you how to handle your baby.

Feeding is especially important for premature babies. Those who get some of their mother's milk do better, so think seriously about breastfeeding. Even if you can't stay with your baby all the time, you can express milk for the nurses to give while you are away. Some small babies can't suck properly at first and are fed by a fine tube -which is passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach. You and your partner can still touch and probably hold your baby. The tube isn't painful, so you needn't worry about it being in the way or hurting your baby.

Always ask about the treatment your baby is being given and why, if it's not explained to you. It is important that you understand what is happening so that you can work together with hospital staff to ensure that your baby receives the best possible care. It is natural to feel anxious if your baby is having special care. Talk over any fears or worries with the staff caring for your baby.

The consultant paediatrician will probably arrange to see you, but you can also ask for an appointment if you wish. The hospital social worker may be able to help with practical problems.

Babies who are very tiny are nursed in incubators rather than cots to keep them warm. But you can still have a lot of contact with your baby. Some incubators have open tops but, if not, you can put your hands through the holes in the side of the incubator to stroke and touch your baby. You can talk to your baby too. This is important for both of you. You may be asked to wear a gown and mask. Carefully wash and thoroughly dry your hands before touching your baby.

The staff in NNICUs are there to help and support you as well as your baby. Tell them what your worries are and use them if necessary as a shoulder to cry on. You may feel very happy one day and heartbroken the next. These feelings are normal and expected, and midwives and nurses understand and want to help you if they can. It's important that you understand everything that is being done for your baby. The staff will explain as they go along but feel free to ask whenever you fee! you need to.

Parents of babies in NNICU make wonderful, spontaneous support groups. They hardly know they are doing it. This happens especially in SCBU when the babies are improving. The parents feel more able to talk to each other, go for a coffee between feeds and even meet outside the unit. They listen to each other, commiserate when things are not going so well and rejoice together when things are improving. They understand what the others are going through.

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