Being an Active Parent on the Neonatal Unit

Being an Active Parent on the Neonatal Unit

Being an active parent on the neonatal unit can be  daunting. On the one hand, it can feel like you are at the mercy of the nursing staff. After all, they have the skill, knowledge and experience to care for your baby physiologically. But before you take a back seat, remember that you are a critical part of your baby’s care team. As an active parent in the neonatal unit, you can make a big difference to your little one’s health and development.  

The Neonatal team 

The team in the neonatal unit is multidisciplinary. In other words, a number of healthcare professionals with specialist skills will work together to care for your little one. Multidisciplinary teams in the neonatal unit usually consists of a pediatrician, a neonatologist and a neonatal nurse. A variety of specialists may well be called in when necessary and could include:

  • a cardiologist (heart)
  • an audiologist (hearing)
  • a neurologist (brain) 
  • a nephrologist (kidneys)
  • an ophthalmologist (vision) a pathologist (blood infections)
  • a radiographer
  • a breastfeeding counselor
  • a social worker
  • a developmental OT or physiotherapist
  • a speech and language therapist

Add to this team three critical people: your baby, you and your partner. 

As the mum or dad, you are critical to the team because you bring three unique and vital aspects to your baby’s care:


You are the most consistent person around your baby. Nurses will come and go. They will fulfill their shift  and then go off duty. But you are there as the constant in your baby’s life.

You are there now and will be there for their entire childhood. With time, you will be the one who knows your baby best in the neonatal unit and your baby will come to know you on a sensory level as consistent and predictable. 

A voice for your baby

As the most consistent person, and the only member of the team who cannot be replaced, it’s important that you take an active role. You will observe your baby’s responses to interventions and sensory input. You will learn the pattern of what gets done when and how your baby responds. In fact, you are the perfect advocate who stands in for your baby and diplomatically communicates their needs. This knowing can help the team focus their interventions in a way that your baby responds well to. 

An understanding of your baby 

Your baby has a unique language that will tell you what they are coping well with and what is distressing to them. Get to know your baby’s signals and you will soon be the team member who can translate your baby’s needs. Call it instinct, mother’s intuition of just tuned in parenting, you will come to read your baby’s responsiveness and their ability to tolerate interaction at any given time. 

Ideally, you want to work with the care team to ensure your baby gets the best care and gets stronger and healthier every day. They bring a particular skill set but that doesn’t discount what you bring to your baby’s well being. Being an active parent on the neonatal unit quite simply, gives your baby the best chance of thriving. 

Download Parent Sense – the all-in-one baby app that is a credible source of information and support in caring for your little one. 

Meg faure

Meg Faure

Hi, I’m Meg Faure. I am an Occupational Therapist and the founder of Parent Sense. My ‘why’ is to support parents like you and help you to make the most of your parenting journey. Over the last 25 years, I’ve worked with thousands of babies, and I’ve come to understand that what works for fussy babies works just as well for all babies, worldwide.