The role of the family
After the baby is born, mother and infant receive most attention and care. Some mothers are in a critical health condition and need time to recover. Nevertheless, they need to establish a strong and long-lasting bond to their babies. Separation right after birth interrupts this important bonding process. Skin-to-skin contact right after delivery and the early involvement of the mother in the childcare can support the bonding from the early beginning.
Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed and to take over other parenting activities such as nappy changing. Psychologists or specialised professionals at the unit can support mothers to cope with the stressful and difficult situation and to develop a bond with their child.
For fathers the situation of seeing their baby and in some cases their partner in the hospital dependent upon medical care can be very shocking. Furthermore, they might need to look after other family members and have to go back to work. This is particularly difficult when they work full-time and are not used to organising the family’s everyday life.
Fathers can also benefit from taking part in the care of their baby, for example by changing nappies, bathing, or providing skin-to-skin care just like the mother. It is very important to realise the needs and worries of the father and to see him as a vulnerable member of the family. They may also need psychological and social support.
Having a little brother or sister in the NICU can be very difficult for older children. It can be hard for them to understand the situation and their parents’ behaviour and emotions. It may also be tough for them to accept that their parents dedicate much time for the new baby. Parents, grandparents or close friends can help to explain what is happening. Siblings also need time together with their parents to experience that they are as important as ever even if their parents need to take care of the new baby.
It is very useful to involve older siblings as much as possible in the new situation. If possible they should visit the baby in the hospital. Siblings can be encouraged to take pictures from themselves or to paint pictures in order to hang them close to the baby’s incubator. Parents can also take pictures of the new baby and show them to older siblings.
Other family members and friends
Family and friends are also concerned about the mother and the baby and would like to help without interfering. For parents, family and friends can be of enormous help at this stage. They can cook for the parents or other family members, look after older children, or help with organisational and administrative things.
In this way parents can spend more time in the hospital and be together with their baby. Mothers and fathers might not be used to accept help from others. They should be encouraged to do so. Parents should also actively ask for help, as relatives and friends may not be aware which kind of assistance would be most helpful.