"Your babies are not counting the hours and keeping score."
The inability to bond with a baby in the NICU is a common concern that many parents experience. Often your time in the NICU with your baby is limited by work schedules, other children at home to care for, and the time it takes to travel to and from the hospital. And if your already limited time is further divided by multiple babies in the NICU, you may be doubting your ability to form a strong, healthy connection. This was a fear I confronted during my twins’ NICU stay. Over the course of the 2 months they were in the hospital I employed several simple strategies that helped me to split my time without sacrificing our bond.
Stagger the Babies’ Care Schedules
Once your babies are strong enough you should be able to change their diapers, check their body temperature, dress them and eventually feed them. Ask the nurses to stagger each babies’ schedules so you are able to take part in as much care of each twin as possible. Communicate with your nurses when you plan on visiting the NICU, so care activities can be saved for and completed by you.
Keep Babies’ Isolettes Close
As long as it doesn’t compromise their care, most NICUs will try to keep siblings close together. For the majority of my twins’ hospitalization, their isolettes were side by side. This made spending time with both of them simultaneously so much easier. Position a comfy chair in between the beds and both babies can benefit from your presence.
Simultaneous Kangaroo Care
The hallmark of bonding is physical touch. And for NICU babies, this often means snuggling skin-to-skin. Kangaroo care has many health benefits for preemies including stabilizing heart rates, improving oxygen saturation and regulation of body temperature. Whenever possible, I would do kangaroo care with both babies together. They benefited from the cuddles with me as well as each other.
Recruit a Holder
Occasionally, you may need to provide undivided attention to one baby. When this occurs, recruit a family member, partner, or close friend to come and hold the other baby. Being held by someone who loves them, even if it’s not you is beneficial. Each NICU has different policies, but most allow approved guests to visit. Asking for help is part of being a parent of multiples, so you might as well start now!
Use Your Voice
There may be times when your babies are not stable enough to be held. At these times, remember the power of your voice. Babies can recognize their mother’s voice at 22 weeks gestation. Hearing a familiar voice promotes attachment, produces a calming effect, and can counteract all the background noise from alarms and equipment. Talk or sing to your babies. You can even record yourself telling a story to play for your babies when you are gone. They love the sound of your voice, even if you don’t. Position yourself between your babies and chat them up.
Bring several of your favorite children’s books and read to them. Studies show that reading to babies in the NICU reduces stress and aids in brain development. This is another great activity that all your preemies can enjoy together.
With permission from the medical staff, you can put together a playlist of soothing music. This is useful if you are unable to be with them, or are needing to focus on one baby at a time.
An additional bonding tool that doesn’t require your physical presence is scent. Scent can help babies identify and attach to their parents. Many NICUs provide fabric hearts, or a lovey that you can put in your shirt to pick up your unique scent. This is placed in your babies’ beds to cuddle and smell. If your hospital doesn’t provide such a device, ask what you could use that would be safe for your babies.
Feeling like there is not enough of you to go around when you have multiple babies in the NICU is understandable. Balancing life, work, family, and sick children is daunting. But your babies are adaptable. Your babies are not counting the hours and keeping score. Do your best to be present with them, whenever you can, and know that what you give them will be enough.