Pakistan’s First Parenting Magazine

Some Guidelines for Loving Interaction with Your Baby

By Dr. Zack Boukydis

Along with the understanding of preterm baby development, here are a few guidelines for loving interaction with your baby. Because premature babies are less mature than fullterm babies, they cannot handle sensory input (listening, seeing, and being moved – all at the same time).  The general rule is “softer” and “less” (only one ‘active input of touching, looking, speaking)”. It is best to start out with very soft, rhythmic voice and gentle touching (or for a very early baby, holding your baby’s hand, or resting your hand beside your baby’s body). At first, watch your baby; – watching closely is central to what we mean by listening to your early born baby. When it is possible to hold your baby; especially if this is during skin-to-skin contact; the issue is simpler (you hold your baby; sometimes speaking quietly, and singing; and with soft touching).

Preterm babies are constantly balancing: (a.) responding to, and seeking out stimulation; versus (b.) protecting from too much stimulation. By watching closely, you can begin to listen to your baby and learn when he/she is remaining steady and ready (with regular breathing, good skin color) for you to ‘engage’ her and when she is protecting (turning her head from too much stimulation, putting her hand or arm over her face; sometimes showing stronger stress signs such as grimacing, looking very tired; change of breathing patterns, and getting paler or duskier skin color).

It takes some time of watching, listening, and learning how much and what types of interaction your baby likes. What sometimes makes this especially challenging (to look and listen to a young premature babies) is that they may have events going on in their body; rather than your efforts to interact with them – which may cause the ‘stress signs’, to occur.  Sometimes parents misinterpret these changes; and can even ‘take it personally: ‘I didn’t do it right’ or even ‘she doesn’t like me’.  Your baby came from you; physically and spiritually. She is joined to you in love. She cannot, ‘not like’ you. She is showing that it is ‘too much stimulation’ for her; but she still loves you and needs you. One of the beauties of skin-to-skin contact, especially with a young premature baby is that you hold them, providing your loving warmth and you and your baby can take your time to get to know each other in the way I am talking about here. It is with slightly older premature babies, especially after 32 weeks gestational age that some of these suggestions about interaction (face to face while being held) may be especially relevant.

How to Rally, How to Endure?

As a psychologist working with families with premature babies, and parents, I want to say some things that may be helpful to parents who have given birth to a premature baby.

With many technical advances in the care of premature babies, there is also widespread recognition that parents are important for the baby during hospital care. I encourage parents to be with their baby, to hold their baby; to have as much skin-to-skin contact as possible; to breastfeed their baby and to care for their baby as much as they can. Some hospitals and professionals support parents; some are neutral; and some are consumed by the difficult job of caring for babies; and don’t feel they have the resources for supporting parents. Also, as babies are unique; each family situation is unique. Some parents live too far from a hospital; some may have other children or family members to care for. Therefore while I will continue to advocate for parents loving and caring for their babies in hospitals; I want to care for parents who can have limited or no contact with their baby. What I have seen over the years; is that babies are resilient and can live through the early hospitalization. [And sadly, some babies pass on; related to the illnesses of prematurity.]  Certainly, while it matters that babies are held; what matters most is that babies are held in heart, and in mind. With support and self respect, I trust that parents have the inner resources to find their way in the often difficult situation of having a premature baby in a hospital*. What matters for many parents is that they recognize, sometimes immediately, sometimes over time, that their baby has a deep will to live. As parents can feel this for themselves; then they can find extra inner resources to care for and have hope for their baby. One mother put it this way; “she is small and seems so helpless; and hanging on a delicate balance between living and dying; but I can sense her inner light; and now I can find myself rallying; finding my way through my fear and depression to be with her as her momma.”

In many areas, there are parents of prematures networks, parents groups in the hospital or in the community. [do you know of these in Pakistan? Put referral information here]. And, some hospitals have staff who can put current parents in touch with a parent who has left the hospital with their baby; and who would be willing to meet, listen to the current parent; and offer their experience.

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