The Emotional Components of Bonding With Preemies

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Helping soothe our baby during medical procedures reminded us that we're the parents!

Having a premature baby comes as a surprise to many parents. Some parents are aware early in pregnancy of their likelihood of having a preemie due to various complications, medical conditions, or the discovery of having multiples, but for many others, the early birth of their baby is a surprise.

Even when a premature baby is completely healthy, many emotions come to the surface that perhaps would not have been there had the baby been born closer to his or her expected time of delivery. Besides the feeling of surprise, emotions including anger, shock, disappointment, fear, and worry are also common for parents of preemies to feel.1 Not discounting the happiness of getting to meet one’s baby for the first time, parents of preemies experience a range of emotions that contribute to how the bonding process begins with the new little life that has been born.

The various feelings felt by parents of premature babies contribute to the bonding process. The pain of life in the NICU is very real. Having to ask permission to hold or feed your baby can be taxing, not to mention the feeling of watching other mothers leave the hospital with their new bundles of joy in their arms. I remember seeing other new parents, giddy upon their discharge, strapping their babies into their car seats for the first time and heading home as a family. Seeing them as I walked in and out of the hospital doors alone, while my baby laid in his plastic bassinet with tubes and wires monitoring his every breath and heartbeat, consumed me with feelings of guilt, anger, jealousy, and sadness. Add to that the mess of postpartum hormones, and it’s only natural that bonding with a preemie may come as a challenge. But Dr. Robert Sears advises that bonding with your child is a process.2 The chaos of NICU life has the potential to rob parents of the joy of new a baby, but with the right focus and deliberate choices, we can enjoy bonding with our preemies.

Adopting the “this is my baby” attitude is one of the best ways to forge ahead with the bonding process. In my experience, I found that each time I remembered, “Hey, this is MY baby!” I felt relief. I didn’t have to tiptoe around the doctors and nurses and let them do whatever they pleased with my baby. Of course, maintaining a level of respect and kindness was important too, but realizing I didn’t have to just sit there with a hands-off approach was empowering. I asked questions when I didn’t understand something that was going on, I imposed my parenting beliefs when it was medically safe, I stood strong with my intent to breastfeed and hold my baby as much as possible, and all of those things really helped. Bonding was intentional for me, and once I realized I didn’t have to feel hesitant or sheepish around the neonatologist or nervously ask for permission from nurses to hold or feed my baby, our bond grew even deeper. (I do want to note that the NICU staff where we were was phenomenal—no one bossed me around or was rude to me.) Once I understood that this was my baby, I felt empowered and motherly, which only promoted the natural nurturing of my little baby.

Kangaroo Care is a great way to get the bonding going!

It is completely normal for certain emotions like anger, resentment, and guilt to get in the way of moms feeling like we can or even want to bond with our premature babies. However, trusting that the bonding and love will come, and knowing that the more time we spend with our babies with bring us closer to that point, can help us to get over the hump and into the swing of things.

Having other children at home, balancing responsibilities between home life and NICU life, all while wondering if your preemie is okay and questioning why he or she came early can all stifle our natural desire to bond with our new babies. Remaining by your baby’s side when possible is a sure way to work toward a healthy bonding relationship. Don’t worry about the times you can’t be there or when other responsibilities seem to be too overwhelming to ignore. Your baby knows you and knows you love him or her.

Focus on what you can do, and do it. Touch your baby in ways that are developmentally and medically safe, sing and talk to your baby (being aware of their stimulation tolerances), feed your baby your milk when possible (there are many ways to do this!), and soon you will find you and your baby are bonding as any normal, healthy mother-baby pair would.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

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Adrienne is a first time mom to her mellow sweetie-pie, Burkley. Carrying her natural lifestyle over into her role of mother was a common-sense transition for this former elementary school teacher turned crunchy-mama. Research is her passion and her friends and family know that she is almost always ready with a stash of resources bookmarked to answer any of their natural parenting questions. While she admits to being on the computer more than she should be, she has been happily adjusting to her new life as a stay-at-home mom after moving back home to the Quad Cities (along the Mississippi River) from Chicago, by spending time with her family and newly found mom-friends. She is currently saving up money to become a certified postpartum doula. You can find Adrienne at Mommying My Way.

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Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.

  1. Linden, D.W., Parolit, E.T., & Doron, M.W. (2000). Preemies. Pocket Books, New York.
  2. Sears, W., Sears, R., Sears, J., & Sears, M., The Premature Baby Book

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