tips to support your premature baby
Special needs

20 tips to support your premature baby

Bonding with your premature baby and encouraging their development can seem like a challenge, especially when they are in the NICU. But there is a lot you can do to connect with your infant right from the beginning.

1. Start with something simple like holding baby’s hand or letting them hold your finger.

It is important to let baby know what you are going to do and even ask permission as this helps baby understand what to expect and what positive touch is.

2. Consider learning baby massage techniques.

Make sure you learn the technique from a certified infant massage instructor (CIMI) with experience of premature babies. They can teach you about resting hands, containment holds, massage techniques, gentle movements and touch relaxation. Research shows that premature babies put on more weight and can leave hospital earlier when massaged.

3. Offer skin-to-skin contact or ‘Kangaroo Mother Care’.

This technique involves holding baby in a curled, flexed manner on your chest to provide the environment of the uterus. Traditional KMC also includes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

4. Keep them in a curled position.

While holding your baby, help keep them in a curled position. This helps the premature infant to feel secure as if in the womb.

5. Create a cocoon.

Create a cocoon for them in which they can feel something supporting them. Place rolled blankets around them to keep a flexed, curled foetal position.

6. Low lights.

Dim the lights or provide a protective light barrier across the incubator or cot. The premature infant’s eyes are very sensitive to light. Too much light may lead to other problems with their eyesight.

7. Lower your voice.

Keep voices hushed and high pitched noises down to provide a soothing environment. Close doors softly. Infant ear muffs may also help muffle noise.

8. Music.

The gentle rhythm of music can mimic the heartbeat sounds your baby has heard so long in utero and will help prepare him for language development.

9. Soother.

Use a very soft soother made specifically for new-borns to help in the development of the sucking reflex.

10. Smells.

Be wary of strong scents and smells. Don’t wear perfumes or aftershaves to allow baby to recognise and be calmed by his/her parents’ own scent.

11. Rocking.

Gently rocking baby in a linear motion can be very calming.

12. Sign or hum gently.

Talk softly and sing or hum to your baby. Babies learn to recognise songs and tunes quickly and can associate tunes with sleep, play, nappy-changing, etc.

13. Making faces.

Make faces, smile, stick your tongue out, roll your eyes and allow baby to love and explore your face.

14. Textures.

As your baby is able to hold objects, offer a variety of textures to touch. Fuzzy blankets or bumpy teething toys will help with fine motor skills.

15. Decor.

Bright, contrasting designs like black and white graphics will stimulate vision.

16. Calming.

Babies often suck on their hands you can bring their hands to their mouth if they can’t. This can be very calming.

17. Create a womb-like space.

If baby is agitated, you can put them on their tummy on your shoulder, and help get both legs and arms tucked, hand in mouth. Then put one hand on top of their head and one on their bottom. This containment hold creates a womblike space.

18.  Sling.

Invest in a good sling through a sling consultant to help keep baby close and secure. As they hear your heartbeat they will feel safe.

19. Tummy time.

Gradually introduce tummy time, starting with baby across your thighs as you sit on the floor. Supporting baby’s back and bottom with your hands, gently bend a knee at a time, enabling baby to move into extension while also feeling reassured by your resting hands.

20.  Get some expert advice.

Irish Premature Babies are the largest organisation in Ireland supporting the families of preterm babies and the hospitals that care for them nationwide. They are a voluntary run charity, so every cent raised goes directly to supporting preterm babies. If you need support or would like to volunteer or donate please  visit our website:

More like this:

Bonding with your premature baby
The first 72 hours
IVF: Going it alone

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Bath before bedtime

A bath can be a good way to help settle your little one ahead of bedtime, writes Lucy Wolfe.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….