Understanding your feelings

Your baby is in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). If at first you feel distant from your baby, you may wonder if there is something wrong with you. Or you may worry that because you cannot snuggle with your baby, you won't be able to bond.

Rest assured that feeling distant is a normal reaction for parents during the early weeks of their infant's NICU stay. And feeling distant doesn't mean you're not bonding.

Your bond with your baby began during pregnancy and continues to grow long after your baby is born. Be patient with yourself. Over time, as you adjust to the NICU, you'll feel closer and more like a parent to your baby.

As time passes and your emotions change, keep in mind that most NICU parents feel many positive and negative feelings--even at the same time. This is because your heartfelt connection with your baby includes all the joy and pain.

Also know that many NICUs welcome parents and encourage them to help take care of their babies. As soon as your baby is ready, you will be able to bathe, feed, dress and hold him. You also can learn to perform some routine medical care for your baby, such as taking his temperature.

You may feel nervous at first, but your baby's nurses will show you what to do. Taking care of your baby will help you feel closer to him. And as you begin to feel more involved, you'll feel more confident as a parent, and more certain of your ability to take care of your baby after he comes home.

As a parent, you can give unique and loving comfort to your baby. Medical technology is important, but your little one also needs your gentle touch and nurturing voice. Just as your baby is so precious to you, you also are precious to your baby. You have special qualities that no doctor or nurse can match—an intense love for your baby and a distinct familiarity that your baby finds calming.

See also: Share your story

August 2009

Most common questions

Is it OK to hold my baby in the NICU?

It depends on your baby's health overall. Some newborn intensive care units (NICUs) will encourage you to hold your baby from birth onward. Other NICUs will want you to wait until your baby's health is stable. Ask your NICU staff about its policy on kangaroo care (holding your baby on your bare chest). Kangaroo care has benefits for both you and your baby. The skin-to-skin contact is a precious way to be close to your baby. You may be afraid you'll hurt him by holding him. But you won't. Your baby knows your scent, touch and the rhythms of your speech and breathing, and he’ll enjoy feeling that closeness with you.

My baby was born full term. Why is she in the NICU?

Not all newborn intensive care unit (NICU) babies are born premature. Some babies, even those born full term, may need special care. Your baby may need to spend some time in the NICU if she had a difficult delivery, has breathing problems, has infections or has birth defects.

Most babies leave the NICU just fine. Others may need more special care once they're home.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).