It is quite normal to feel anxious, nervous and afraid to touch your baby. Staff will be on hand to help and guide you on how to touch and hold your baby safely.
There are a number of ways you can comfort your baby. You can quietly talk to them, hold their foot or hand, or comfort them by just placing your hand on them in the incubator or cot. When the baby’s condition allows, you will be able to have them out for cuddles using kangaroo care.
When you feel confident you can begin to take part in the daily care of your baby. You can change your baby’s nappy and give them a wash – top and tail. When your baby is able to regulate their temperature you will, with support, be able to bath your baby.
You will be encouraged to personalise your baby’s space by providing pictures or a photograph, nappies, cotton wool, baby clothes, blankets and a soft toy. Essential baby items, such as nappies and cotton wool, are available to purchase at the hospital pharmacy
Feeding your baby
We believe that breastfeeding is the healthiest way for a mother to feed her baby – it is well documented that breastfeeding has health benefits for both mother and baby. Our Neonatal Unit breastfeeding policy is in line with The Baby Friendly Initiative, which is a world Health Organization and UNICEF programme. We have achieved the UNICEF certificate of commitment for Baby Friendly and our aim is to give mothers information and support to enable them to breastfeed successfully.
Colostrum is the name given to milk produced in the early days of lactation. It is concentrated milk which contains nutrients and protective factors. Babies receive protection against infection from their very first feed of colostrum.
Any baby born too early or ill faces special challenges, therefore it is important to breastfeed or to feed with expressed breast milk. There are several reasons why breast milk is important for preterm babies. Babies who are premature or ill are more prone to infection so they need the protective properties of breast milk. Preterm breast milk contains more immunoglobulins which coat and protects the gut wall. Breast milk is better absorbed and digested than infant formula and this is very important in a preterm baby whose gut is immature. Mums should be aware that by providing breast milk they are doing something important and irreplaceable for their babies.
Mothers of tiny or ill babies often comment how helpless they feel in those early days, however by providing breast milk you are choosing to give your baby a unique and ultimate nutrition and this is something only you as a mother can provide.
When your baby is admitted to the Neonatal Unit it is not always possible to breastfeed initially. This might be because your baby is too premature to suck and swallow, or that your baby is unwell and unable to tolerate feeding. This does not mean that you cannot feed eventually, and we promote and support you with expressing your colostrum and breast milk until feeding can be established. If you do not plan to breastfeed, but would like to express breast milk during your baby’s stay in the Neonatal Unit, we will support you. More information can be found on the Bliss website.
The Neonatal Unit has a designated expressing room with expressing pumps, sterilization tanks and equipment to aid you while you’re in the unit. You are also welcome to express at the cot side, this can help with your milk supply. It is also very important to express at home, and you should aim to express 3 to 4 hourly (8 times a day). This enhances the milk supply in the long term, especially if your baby is very premature and you could be expressing for several months.
The Neonatal Unit’s milk kitchen is a designated area for the preparation and storage of milk. Expressed milk should be expressed into a sterile bottle, the bottle should be labelled with the baby’s name, and the date and time expressed. The milk can either be put into the fridge or the freezer depending on your baby’s requirements. Refrigerated milk lasts for 48 hours. Freezer milk can be kept in the freezer for three months. Defrosted milk should be used within 24 hours.
Many of the babies admitted to the Neonatal Unit are either too premature or unwell to breast or bottle feed. They are however able to tolerate milk feeds. A small nasogastric tube will be passed via the nose or orogastric tube via the mouth into the stomach and secured by tape on their face. Milk feeds are calculated out by a feeding regime and the baby’s weight. Tube feeding begins slowly and is individually tailored to the baby depending on how they tolerate the feeds. The milk is measured out carefully and given via a syringe, either 1 hourly, 2, 3, or 4 hourly. Feeding regimes are reviewed daily depending on the baby’s weight and ability to tolerate the amount of milk feed.
We fully support your choice to breast feed. It is not always possible to totally breastfeed initially, but there are many ways to initiate breastfeeding. Regular 3 to 4 hourly expressing of breast milk, kangaroo care, and placing your baby at your breast even if they are not sucking to stimulate your milk supply. As your baby matures or recovers they will become more interested in sucking at the breast, and our experienced staff will assist you in this process. There will come a time when your baby starts to demand breastfeeding and we will discuss arrangements for you to come in more frequently and perhaps stay the night. Until that time you must ensure you get plenty of rest and eat well to keep an optimal milk supply.
If you plan to bottle feed your baby, this can be commenced when your baby is either mature or well enough to start sucking. Premature babies begin to co-ordinate their sucking, swallowing and breathing at approximately 34 weeks. The unit has smaller teats for premature babies, and when your baby starts bottle feeding it may only be for one feed in 24 hours and only a few drops of milk. You will be guided through bottle feeding your premature baby, with tips on positioning and how to recognise the signs of when your baby is tired or needs winding.
All babies need a certain amount of fluid each day, along with salts, sugar, vitamins etc. Many of the babies admitted to the Neonatal Unit are either too premature or unwell initially to breast, bottle or tube feed and may need to be fed intravenously. This is done by inserting a fine plastic tube (cannula) into a vein – usually the hand or foot. A special infusion pump will then control the amount of fluid given.
If you would like to raise any concerns, make comments and suggestions or require information on Trust services, you can contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).