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18 Things to do with your Baby in the NICU – To Bond With Your Preemie

18 things you can do with your baby in the NICU to Start Bonding

When my daughter was in the NICU, I was desperate to find ways for us to bond. The first night I spent hours researching ways I could connect with her, even though she was hooked up to wires and I couldn’t hold her.  There is hope mama! Here are 11 things to do with your baby in the NICU, so you can start bonding right now.

I went into labor at 36 weeks (exact) and never expected to be in the NICU. My mom had me at 35 weeks – I was just 4lbs – So when my water broke I assumed I would be taking home a baby.

Although our NICU stay was only about a week, it was a huge setback in our relationship. I’ll share more of our story throughout this post!

18 Things to Do with Your NICU Baby

Before I get into some ideas on how to bond with your preemie, I know there are going to be mamas who have babies of all different ages. You may not be able to do all of the ideas mentioned. It really depends on their gestational age at birth. 

Even if you can’t do all of these things, look forward to each milestone where you CAN start doing them. I found that talking to the nurses about things I wanted to do really helped. They were so encouraging and tried their best to make them happen!

1. Study Your Baby

Even if you can’t hold your baby right away, you can sit and observe them. Get curious about who they are and their signals. Look for signs that their diaper is wet, when they are hungry, or if they are overstimulated.

The more you pay attention to your child, the better you will know them. Bonding with your baby has a lot to do with how well you can read their needs.

2. Talk to Them

From the moment I walked into the NICU, I just sat there and talked with my daughter. The mom we shared a room with probably thought I was crazy hahah!

Your baby has known your voice since their little ears began to form. The sound of your voice is familiar and comforting to them. I found that my daughter would often settle down just by hearing me talk to her. 

If you need some science behind this, here is an interesting study about Moms who talk to their baby in the NICU!

I highly recommend using the same phrases or using a nickname each time you see them. This will help them to recognize it’s their mama! Here are some examples:

  • Each time I came into the room I greeted her with “Hi Dolly!”
  • Each time I tried to nurse her I would say “Mamas going to nurse you.”
  • Before we left for the night, I would whisper “Goodnight Sweet Pea, I love you.”

3. Sing them a Song

Many mamas sing to their baby while they are pregnant. It’s crazy, but babies remember the rhythm of your voice.

Try singing your NICU baby a song. This will bring them so much comfort! For some babies, this will keep them calmer than just talking to them.

If you didn’t sing during your pregnancy, it’s never too late to start. Here are some of my favorite Christian Songs and Hymns for babies, maybe one will feel right for you!

4. Read them a Story

My husband packed a few books to read to our daughter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do skin-to-skin or even bottle feed her for the first few days.

Reading her his favorite childhood books, helped him to connect with her. If you have books that include a little rhythm that you can make into a song, this makes it even better!

Again, the sound of your voice can work wonders! It can calm down your baby and is known to help with brain development.

It’s never too early to encourage your baby in their faith, here are our family’s favorite Christian Books for Babies!

4. Hold Their Hand

I’m not sure if this is more therapeutic for parents or babies! There is nothing better than your child holding your hand.

Even for the littlest NICU babies, some doctors will recommend this before you can hold them. 

For the first two days, I couldn’t hold my daughter, so I sat next to her and held her hand for hours. This calmed me down being able to have these moments of connection with her.

5. Stroke and Massage Their Little Body

mom holding baby skin to skin in the NICU

There is so much power in physical touch. Our NICU nurse told us stories about babies who would cry and cry. And then, the moment their mom began to stroke their little body, they quickly calmed down. 

My daughter loved to lay on her belly in the NICU. I would warm my hands and then gently stroke her back, arms, and head. It still amazes me how quickly she would relax.. you could tell by her SATS.

If your baby isn’t ready for this much touch, hand holding is the first step! Some doctors will recommend hand hugs (read more about what they are and how they help here).

6. Skin-to-Skin

I feel like this is obvious, but I want to mention it in case you are like me and had no idea that you COULD do this.

After my daughter was born, the pediatric team at the hospital where I delivered was not helpful at all. I was not allowed to be with my daughter for more than a few minutes because they said she needed rest. Which in hindsight I kind of understand, but I still believe we may not have had as long of a NICU stay if I had started skin-to-skin sooner.

My sweet lactation specialist helped me to finally get some skin-to-skin time the day she was being transferred to the NICU. It was amazing how much her levels improved just from a 30 minute session!

If your baby is ready, PUSH for skin-to-skin.. it will help you and your baby!

7. Feed Your Baby

I had NO idea that I was able to feed my daughter a bottle until several days into our NICU stay. Obviously, this will depend on how old your baby is, but if you can feed them! 

This really helped my husband to bond with my daughter, since he couldn’t do skin to skin. Once it was time to start trying to breastfeed, this helped me to connect the most. Breastfeeding is HARD. I had every challenge in the book, but we went on to have a 15 month journey! It’s totally possible mama!!

8. Give them YOUR Milk

Even if you don’t have a lot, give your baby what you DO have. Our NICU nurses were really encouraging about giving our daughter my breastmilk before we supplemented with formula. 

My daughter definitely preferred my milk over formula, which was such a cool thing to see. When we started to try breastfeeding, the Lactation Specialist, would take a drop of my pumped milk in a syringe and squirt some in her mouth. 

I was told that newborns know the unique smell of their mom’s milk! This will help you both to bond, even if you can’t breastfeed yet.

9. Pray for Your Baby

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for your NICU baby. I brought a blank journal to the hospital each day so that I could prayer journal. This helped me to get all my thoughts out and pray.

I also prayed aloud with her, which was a great way for her to hear my voice and include her in my time with the Lord.

Something that I was reminded of when my daughter was in the NICU is that God loves her more than I do. He created her. He is her father. If I believe this, I need to trust that He will take care of her.

If you are still worried about your baby, you need to read these 7 Tips (that will help you now!)

The other way I prayed over my daughter was with Bible Verses. We swaddled my daughter in a “God has you in the palm of His hand” muslin blanket, as a physical reminder that He was caring for her.

10. Make Your Space Feel Like Home

Mother holding preemie in the NICU

If you have read any NICU tips, this is the first on everyone’s list. When we first got to the hospital, the nurse gave us “homework.” We needed to come back the next morning with things to make the room feel like home.

We brought swaddle blankets for them to use, a lovie, and throughout the week our family sent pictures and cards, which we used to decorate the space.

The more comfortable you feel the more relaxed your baby will be. This will help them to heal and gain strength faster!

Our doctor had me use one swaddle all day and before we went home, we wrapped her in it. The scent of her mama helped her sleep better and longer at night.

[Don’t forget these NICU Must-Haves]

11. Care for Them!

It wasn’t until a few days before we left that we realized that we could be caring for our daughter. The nurses were always coming in and changing her diaper, so we had no idea we could do it!

Once we realized we could be doing these simple things, we went into parent mode and began just caring for our little girl. This really helped us to bond because of the physical touch and we were responding to her needs.

12. Take Pictures

NICU family pictures

Obviously, you can’t always have a professional photographer come in, but your nurses will be MORE than happy to take a picture of your little family.

Our nurse encouraged us to take lots of pictures, so when I went home overnight to pump I could have a more productive session. It’s amazing what a difference it made. 

Aside from that, just having some photos to document this journey is important. This is part of their story, they will want to see what it was like!

13. Just be there

This is easier said than done, especially if your baby is in the NICU for several months. But, do the best you can mama! Be there in the hospital with your baby as much as you can. It truly will make a huge difference. 

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to do everything we can to make our child better. Sometimes we think if we do X,Y, and Z… this will help us to bond. In reality, it’s truly as simple as just being present!

14. Play Music

When we first arrived at the NICU, the nurses had soft instrumental music playing. It truly made the space feel calm and relaxing. 

If you had some relaxing music you enjoyed while you were pregnant, this may bring comfort to your healing baby. Surprisingly many babies remember these rhythms and sounds from pregnancy!

15. Make Eye Contact

When your baby is ready, start to make eye contact. This is great for both you and your baby! Time.com wrote an article about this and mentioned that it’s like our brains “sync up” when we make eye contact. This is absolutely incredible!

Thinking back to those early days, there was this overwhelming sense of love that came over me when my daughter did make eye contact. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, keep trying – this is a big milestone in helping you both to bond.

16. Record Your Voice for When you are gone

If your baby will be in the NICU for a while, you may want to record your voice. Studies show that babies sleep better when they hear their mom’s voice. 

I love this panda from Fin + Co! It is specifically made for NICU babies. You can record your voice and add your scent. This stuffed panda was made by a NICU mama, so it includes everything you will need to make your baby feel more at home. (Get 20% off with my code BLESS)

17. Ask for a “NIC-VIEW” Camera

This is last on my list because many hospitals do not offer them yet. But, it’s worth it to ask!

The NIC-View Cameras help you to check in on your little one even when you aren’t there. Just seeing your baby helps you to get to know him/her better, which plays a huge role in helping you bond.

My Thoughts…..

Having a baby in the NICU is so hard. It can feel like you will never have that connection that full-term babies have with their parents. But if you start to implement these 17 things you can do with your baby in the NICU, it will help you rebuild that relationship today.

I promise you that these dark days will come to an end. They are hard, but if you continue to work at it…. Someday it will feel like you never missed a beat.

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