Holding Your Baby in Intensive Care

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“Yes, your baby can be held today!”

Hearing these words can trigger strong emotions. Every parent is eager to hold their baby. But holding a baby who is very small or on a breathing machine with lots of tubes and wires can be scary (even for experienced parents). Below are some common questions parents have about holding their baby in intensive care and our recommendations.

“I know I will want to hold my baby, but isn’t it better to just let my baby rest in bed?”

Babies are born needing your touch. Your touch is very different than touch from the hospital staff.

When you hold your baby, you help your baby:

  • Get to know you and develop an attachment
  • Maintain body temperature
  • Develop and grow brain connections
  • Learn language
  • Develop muscles and strength
  • Gain weight
  • Feel less pain
  • Cry less
  • Stabilize breathing and heart rate
  • Sleep better
  • Reduce stress
  • Feel safe and protected

Holding your baby also helps you:

  • Feel more confident as a parent
  • Feel connected to your baby
  • Reduce stress
  • Produce milk for your baby, if you pump

“Holding my baby for the first time feels like a big deal. How can I prepare when it is time to hold my baby?”

  • Request a comfortable chair with arms and a footrest.
  • Choose a time when you can take your time and are not rushed.
  • Go to the restroom, and make sure you eat beforehand.
  • For moms who pump, pump before holding your baby.
  • Have a water bottle nearby in case you become thirsty.

“I want to hold my baby, but I don’t know whether it is safe, and I feel nervous. What are some tips?”

  • It’s never too early to start a conversation with your nurse about when your baby will be ready to be held. If your baby is not yet ready, ask your nurse, “What are some signs that tell me my baby is ready to be held?”
  • Talk to your baby’s therapists (e.g., occupational therapists, physical therapists) about suggestions for how to hold your baby.
  • Ask your baby’s nurse for ideas about how to make your baby comfortable.
  • Remember that sometimes babies have a little stress while being moved out of bed but then become very comfortable in your arms.
  • All babies (not just premature babies) benefit from skin to skin holding, which is called kangaroo care. Kangaroo care has amazing benefits for children and parents and is encouraged whenever possible. To learn more about kangaroo care, please see the Skin to Skin Care (Kangaroo Care) handout in the patient family education manual (13:B:08).
  • Before holding your baby, take some calming deep breaths.
  • Ask the social worker or psychologist for tips on how to feel more comfortable holding your baby.
  • Remember that the more you hold your baby, the easier and more comfortable it will become!

“My baby’s team says my baby is not yet ready to be held. What else can I do?”

If your baby is not ready to be held, your touch is still important!

  • “Hand hugs” are a great option when your baby is not yet ready to get out of bed. This will also support your baby’s growth and your relationship.
  • Gentle, constant touch to your baby’s head, chest or feet can have a calming effect.
  • If your baby is in a warmer bed or isolette, ask for a taller chair so you can sit comfortably next to your baby and be together.