"My premie's not bonding with me," the nurse hears during "Prematurity Awareness Month."

The anxious mother stands quietly beside the isolette. Her premie is making progress, and the nurse reminds her that the doctor and nurse practitioner both said that she and her baby, Sarah, will be going home in another few weeks. Nevertheless, Mom continues to look glum – a deep kind of sadness this nurse has seen often in young NICU parents.

“I know you say that Sarah is getting stronger. I can see that her weight is going up, and all those machines say that that her breathing and heartbeat are improving. But I can tell we aren't bonding. Little Sarah just doesn’t feel close to me."

The nurse is surprised by this mother’s comment. She has seen this first-time mother attend to every detail of her daughter’s care. She ask questions when she is confused. She takes notes when the nurse practitioner or doctor explain the baby’s condition. She encourages her husband to hold the baby, and she pumps her breast to provide the breast milk this struggling baby needs.

“But Sarah doesn't look at me. When I talk to her for more than a minute she closes her eyes and turns away,” the young mom explains as she tears up.

A common misunderstanding has just occurred. The young baby is exhibiting a normal newborn response to over-stimulation. She is “Switching Off,” a common behavioral SOS [Sign of Over-Stimulation]. Babies, and especially those born early or with physical challenges, often cannot yet handle energetic interaction. They may turn away from such stimulation in order to conserve energy for healing and growing. This action can actually be a good sign that the baby is beginning to manage her environment.

Sarah’s mom watches The HUG DVD about a newborn’s SOSs. The nurse helps the mother observe the SOSs described in the DVD. This young parent learns to hold her baby’s hands against her chest, swaddle her, or encourage her to suck when Sarah sends out an SOS. Mom also learns how to decrease the intensity of her interactions with the baby if the little one is over-stimulated. The nurse encourages Sarah's mom to hold the newborn skin-to-skin, both to calm the baby and to promote the bonding process.

Sarah’s mom looks more confident and sounds proud as she describes these SOSs to her husband when he comes by after work. They both have a new way of reading their baby’s body language, and they smile as they discuss the life they are starting to share as a family. The bonding process is underway, and the nurse is satisfied to know that her teaching will reap rewards for years to come--both for these parents and for Sarah!

See the March of Dimes's information about premature babies. (Here is another story about a premie.)

Read other articles on understanding and care of babies.
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© HUG Your Baby 2009