We know how important it is to develop positive relationships with our babies both for their health and development, but also for the positive benefits on the mental health of us as parents. We also know that we start to develop those relationships even before the baby is born.  

For babies born early or sick, there is often a disruption to the usual progression to developing their attachment to their parents during their stay in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN). There are many ways to help promote and develop attachment with your baby whilst they are in the NICU, today we are talking about ways to continue to promote and develop attachment and bonding with your baby when your baby comes home from the NICU.  

There are three key things to think about when it comes to engaging with your baby: 

  1. Joint attention – we want to create opportunities where we are engaging in the same activity or action as our baby. This might be as simple as sitting baby supported on you at eye height, and talking to your baby (softly), or mimicking their sounds, with the aim of watching them respond to you with eye contact, turning their head towards you, ‘joining you’ in the activity and wanting more.  
  1. Think about the senses – during their time in the NICU there is a lot of talk about the importance of skin-to-skin contact. This is still important when you’re home – being as close to you as possible is really reassuring for your baby. It also helps them to calm and start to co-regulate by listening and feeling the rhythm of your heartbeat and breath. Other senses can also be used to aid their engagement (just remember to always do this in moderation and monitor for signs your baby is becoming overwhelmed by a sense) such as singing, rocking, and swaying, watching movement (moving your fingers for them to watch, or moving a toy) – it doesn’t have to be complicated.  
  1. It’s hard work – engaging in any activity for a baby is hard work. If you are engaging in small periods of attention/games with your baby, it’s important to remember to monitor their cues for when they need a break – signs like looking away, their movements being less controlled, and becoming ‘grizzly’ are all signs a baby is needing a break. It’s important to try and act on these signs before they become overwhelmed or upset to continue to prompt the positive experience of engaging with you.  

When is the best time to engage with my baby? 

It’s exciting being at home with your baby. You may feel like you’re needing to catch and make up for some missed opportunities when it comes to engaging and developing your relationship with them. It’s important to remember there are times that it’s not advised to be focusing on engagement. This includes when feeding (to avoid baby becoming distracted), or when settling baby.  

What things do I need to work on developing attachment and joint attention with my baby? 

There are lots of toys and things you can use. But all you really need is yourself, your baby, and time. It’s important to remember that you were the first things your baby knew before they were even born, now is your opportunity to build on that relationship to promote attachment. Think about the small moments that you’ll be able to enjoy together to create lasting memories! 

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