Your role, the importance of skin-to-skin, feeding your baby and taking care of yourself.

Be a part of your baby’s care. Ask questions. The nurse assigned to your baby will have information on your baby’s condition. Learn more about the members of your baby’s health care team.

Parenting your baby may feel difficult in the NICU. In the beginning the NICU can seem intimidating and overwhelming. This feeling is normal and experienced by many parents. As you become more comfortable with your baby and the equipment, there are a lot of ways you can help care for your baby’s needs.

The NICU staff are there as coaches to assist you in performing your baby’s care. Ask about how you can get more involved.


Skin-to-skin care is one of the best ways to help your baby and you. Do this often and as for as long as possible.

  • Both mom and dad can participate in this care.
  • Your baby will be only in their diaper, placed on your chest with several blankets wrapped around you to hold the baby in place and keep you both warm.
  • Make sure you are comfortable and have plenty of time to sit and enjoy this special time with your baby.

Benefits: gain weight quicker, less infections, more milk for mom, building a closer relationship with your baby.

Learn more about the many health benefits of skin-to-skin care for you and your baby. 

Hand hugs

If you are not able to be skin-to-skin with your baby, ask your nurse to show you how to “hand hug” your baby. Hand hugs, also known as facilitated tucking or containment, can help soothe and comfort your baby at any time, especially during stressful procedures.

However, premature born infants can become over stimulated. Learn about the signs of over stimulation.

Care tasks

As you become more comfortable with the NICU, there are several tasks that you can do for your baby called “care tasks.” These tasks include diaper changes, taking your baby’s temperature, weighing, bathing and feeding your baby.

The amount of care tasks you can be involved in will increase as your baby grows. Talk to your nurse to see what tasks you can take on.

Read to your baby

Talking quietly to your baby has been shown to help with bonding and baby brain development. The NICU may have some books available for you to read to your baby or you are welcome to bring some in yourself. It does not really matter what you read. It is your tone and your presence that helps your baby.

Feeding your baby

Babies in the NICU may not be able to breastfeed right away. It can take time for them to grow and learn to feed. Breast milk is especially good for premature babies. Even if you are unable to breastfeed your baby, pumping or expressing your breast milk is one of the most important ways in which you can help your baby. Ask your nurse to help you hand express within the first six hours of baby's birth (preferably one hour). By doing it so early, you will have a greater milk supply. Learn more about tips for breastfeeding preterm babies.

Understand that it can be difficult to express your milk while your baby is in the NICU. There are some steps you can take to help you with producing and expressing your milk. Talk to your nurse or a lactation consultant (if available) about what you can do to help with your milk supply. The NICU nurses are very knowledgeable about this topic, and the NICU has lots of great resources to help with this.

There may be times when your baby needs extra nutrients added to your breast milk in the NICU. This may include vitamins, minerals or additives or there may be medical reasons for the use of breastmilk substitute (formula). If you have any concerns about what your baby is being fed please talk to your health care team. Learn more on feeding your baby in the NICU.

Find more information about breastfeeding.

Remember to take care of yourself

When your baby is in the NICU it is common to forget about your needs as you care for those of your baby.

  • Get lots of rest, learn more about your body after birth.
  • Eat well balanced meals and stay hydrated. This will help you feel better and even help with your milk supply. Learn more about nutrition for mom.
  • Take some time to read, have a pedicure or a massage. Whatever it is, make sure it is some time that is just for you or you and your partner.
  • Join a support group.
  • Talk to other parents in the NICU. They can be a great support and understand what you are going through.
  • Attend parent events or classes that the NICU puts on. This is great for networking and learning about your baby.

Learn more about taking care of yourself.

Learn more about having a premature infant (between 27 - 37 weeks of gestation) and what to expect if you have an extremely premature infant (between 22 - 26 weeks of gestation).