Sensory care for your prem baby or sensory development care as it’s sometimes called is practiced in neonatal units (NICU) all over the world. For the 40 weeks of pregnancy, the womb is the perfect sensory world for development. But if your baby is born early, you will be acutely aware of how different the sensory environment is in the NICU. The lifesaving procedures & treatment your baby receives in NICU while necessary, can be overwhelming on a sensory level.
Sensory overload in NICU
Here are some of the ways your prem baby experiences the NICU:
- Touch in the NICU often involves pain. Tubes, needles, pricks and just being touched can be painful for your prem baby
- The sterile smells of the NICU can overwhelm their sensitive sense of smell
- The bright lights and jarring sounds of monitor alerts and alarms can aso overstimulate your little one
While we all know that these noxious sensory inputs are critical interventions for a prem baby, there are some wonderful ways you can nurture your newborn’s sensory system. This sensory developmental care will protect your little one’s delicate senses and give you tangible ways to bound and care for your new baby.
Sensory developmental care
Sensory developmental care is used in NICU’s across the world because of it’s positive impact on a prem baby’s long-term development. But while your baby is still medically fragile, their medical needs take precedence over sensory developmental care. Your role is to support the team caring for your baby . Trust their expertise and listen to their advice and instruction. This is also the time for you to rest when you can. Having a prem baby is emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting so focus on getting rest, expressing breast milk often and taking care of yourself. This is a hard journey for you, your partner and your baby.
Once your baby is medically stable, you can implement sensory care for your prem baby. This involves taking sensory principles of the womb world and recreating them in the NICU.
Here are 10 ways to support your prem baby’s sensory system:
- Deep, still touch helps your prem baby feel contained, much like the constant touch of the womb walls. Place both your warmed hands open over your baby’s body using firm pressure. Don’t move your hands, relax your shoulders and keep the pressure steady and still. Within a short time you will feel your baby relax and their breathing steady. You can use this strategy after painful interventions and to help them settle.
- Create boundaries for your prem baby to move up against. A boundary around their head is particularly soothing because it creates a sense of containment similar to the womb. Use rolled blankets or special positioning aids to contain your little one.
- Let your baby hold onto your finger or offer finger rolls for them to grasp onto if they splay their fingers.
- Hold your baby as soon as possible. Don’t be discouraged by all the pipes, drips or even CPAP machine. Your touch is what your baby craves.
- Kangaroo Care is very beneficial for your baby and is used extensively in neonatal units throughout the world. Place your prem baby on your naked chest wearing only a nappy and a hat. Wear a kangaroo care top or cover them with a blanket. Your chest temperature will raise a degree or two to warm your baby up (that’s mother nature at work!) and will maintain a constant temperature for your baby. Use Kangaroo Mother Care or KMC as it’s called as much as possible, as soon as your care team give you the go ahead.
- When you’re not using KMC, maintain a constant temperature in the incubator.
- Cluster painful interventions – this at least gives your prem baby undisturbed periods of sleep as much as possible. If the intervention becomes too much for your baby and they’re stressed, give them a break and use deep still touch to calm and reassure them.
- Sucking on a dummy – your baby has more touch receptors in their mouth than anywhere else on their body. Your baby will be soothed by non-nutritive sucking. During stressful or painful procedures, give your baby a dummy to suck on that been designed for prem babies. In addition to soothing them, this will facilitate maturation of the sucking reflex.
- Swaddle your baby when they’re moved from the incubator and even as they get older, you can swaddle your baby with their legs slightly bent towards their tummy and with their hands together near their face.
- Swaddling at bath time will help to contain their little reflexes and keep them in a curled-up position. This will help your baby to feel contained and calm for bath time.
Click here for more about how to read your prem baby’s state and signals. Did you know that Parent Sense can be used to track your prem baby’s growth, feeds, sleep and development? The app uses your baby’s adjusted age to tailor content just for you. Download the app now and start caring for your prem baby with confidence.