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Bonding with Your Baby in the NICU

It’s important for you to take an active role in your baby’s care so you can bond with your baby while they are in the NICU.


Although your baby is being cared for by nurses and doctors around the clock, your baby still needs you most of all!

Nothing can replace the love and comfort of a parent’s presence and touch. It’s important for you to take an active role in your baby’s care so you can bond with your baby. Bonding may be even more important for a NICU baby than it is for other babies.

Talk to the NICU nurses about your baby’s daily routine. When is your baby usually awake? When is your baby fed? Most NICUs allow parents to spend all day with their baby.

You may be able to hold your baby in the NICU even if your baby is hooked up with tubes and wires. The NICU nurse will tell you if this okay and can help. Your baby may seem extra fragile, but try not to be nervous. Your baby needs your comfort. Even if you can’t hold the baby, you can talk softly or sing to your baby so that your baby gets to know your voice.

You might be able to give your baby your finger to hold or to gently touch your baby’s head. The nurses will guide you.

If your baby is very tiny or sick, your baby might not be able to suck or swallow. He or she might have to be fed through a tube or an IV and may need special food.

Breast milk is best for NICU babies. It helps your baby stay healthy and grow. The NICU nurses will let you know how your baby will be fed. Your baby might be fed in one or more of these ways:

  • Breastfeeding, if baby is able. If not, your baby can be fed breast milk that you pump from your breasts. You will use a breast pump for this. Nurses will show you how.
  • Through a bottle. The bottle may contain breast milk you pumped or formula.
  • With breast milk from a donor.

Many new mothers need help with breastfeeding. If you are having problems with breastfeeding, you can talk with a lactation consultant. “Lactation” is another word for breastfeeding. A lactation consultant is trained to help women breastfeed. They show you what to do and answer questions.

The NICU nurses will tell you when you can help feed or bathe the baby, or change your baby’s diaper. You might get to take your baby’s temperature or do other things for your baby. You might feel nervous about these things. But the nurses will teach you. Soon, you will feel more comfortable caring for your baby.

Hand hugs

If you can’t hold your baby, ask a nurse if you can do “hand hugs.” This is also called hand swaddling or containment hold.

To give your baby a hand hug, you simply put one hand on your baby’s head and the other hand around your baby’s feet or resting on his stomach. This can help calm your baby — and it can help calm you, too.

Follow baby’s cues.

As you spend time with your baby in the NICU, you will begin to understand your baby’s moods and needs:

  • You will begin to know the signs of hunger, tiredness, stress and contentment.
  • You’ll learn how your baby likes to be touched or talked to.
  • You will begin to know what time of the day your baby is usually most alert.
  • You’ll also start to notice the signs that the baby needs to rest.

Your baby, and the other babies in the NICU, may not like loud noises or bright lights. Talk quietly.

NICU babies may be fussy. They can become overstimulated easily. Very premature babies can be especially sensitive to touch. Even if you’re told not to touch the baby at first, it’s still important that you spend as much time in the NICU as you can.

It’s OK to feel nervous.

If you’re feeling nervous, worried or stressed about the NICU and everything that’s happening with your new baby, remember it’s perfectly normal. Your NRS nurses understand how overwhelming it can be, and we’re here for you.

The power of touch: “Kangaroo care”

A wonderful way to bond with your baby is through skin-to-skin contact. Sometimes this is called “kangaroo care.” The baby, wearing only a diaper, is placed on your bare chest for a warm snuggle. The closeness will be comforting and relaxing for you. Make sure to ask the NICU nurse first.

For baby, kangaroo care is good for:

  • Keeping your baby warm
  • Comforting your baby
  • Helping your baby’s heart and breathing
  • Helping your baby sleep better
  • Reducing crying
  • Helping your baby gain weight
  • Improving breastfeeding (when baby is ready)

Just a few minutes of kangaroo care can be helpful. And both mothers and fathers can be kangaroo caregivers.


KidsHealth. When Your Baby’s in the NICU. Accessed March 20, 2018.
March of Dimes. Touching and holding your baby in the NICU. Accessed March 20, 2018.
March of Dimes. Feeding your baby in the NICU. Accessed March 20, 2018. Common Parent Reactions to the NICU. Accessed March 20, 2018.

Last Updated: March 20, 2018