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.


Finger foods for babies

Here are some tips and ideas to help your little one progress onto the next stage of solid foods.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.