• Nurse Tori

Tips & Tricks for Bonding in the NICU

When you initially became pregnant, birthing your baby and having him or her whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) by hospital staff was most likely not in your plan!

Here are my top suggestions for bonding with a newborn in the NICU:

Many parents know that bonding after childbirth is important for both parents and baby, and you may have had some ideas about what this meant to you. You might have visualized yourself holding your baby right after the birth, looking into his or her eyes lovingly, or just lying skin-to-skin for a time. No matter what your vision, the reality of birthing a medically fragile infant is typically very different from these images. You may not have been able to hold, let alone touch, your baby right away and you may now be worried that you have lost a major opportunity to bond with your baby. Please know that this is not true. There are many other ways to bond with your baby – even during his or her NICU stay.

(If you have any questions about what is most appropriate for your baby, please consult with your baby’s medical team.)


Quiet soft voice will offers a sense of comfort. Babies are familiar your voice from inside the womb so hearing it now might be able help stabilize him or her. Bonding will look different for each individual family due to each baby’s unique circumstances. Certain factors – such as mom’s health, the baby’s medical issues, diagnoses and gestation at birth – will affect the ways in which families can bond.

For example, a baby born at 25 weeks cannot be held right away due to its size and medical instability, but a baby born at 34 weeks may be held, depending on his or her medical issues. Even so, some babies are able to tolerate touch very well, while others cannot tolerate touch at all during the initial phase of life. If you were unable to hold your baby within the first 24 hours or the first several weeks of life, please rest assured that your opportunity to bond with your baby was not completely lost. Bonding truly is a process.


Your presence alone can have a long-term positive impact on your baby’s development and give you confidence as a parent too. Spending time with your baby in the NICU is such an important part of bonding.

Parents or parent figures are the constant even at come home; it is important to begin the same routine even before planning for discharge. Ask questions, review the plan of care, empower your self with understanding the NICU day to day routine! The more we see you and get to know you the better. It is helpful when you know as much about your baby as we do!


This is a time when parents can start to change babies diaper, help in taking vitals, and participate in feeding (if appropriate) the baby. Whether it be Bottle or Breast Feeding. Parents are the baby’s best health advocates! GET TO KNOW YOUR NURSES! We are the best form of support at the bedside and day to day care. We can help lead you throughout this journey.


Offering the baby a finger to hold may be one of the first times a parent can physically touch their baby. As the time goes on, they are able to “hand hug” & provide positive soft touch.


The sound of moms heartbeat is a familiar sound to them & it has been medically proven that skin to skin helps a baby thrive in the NICU. Also, a great aid for mothers breastmilk production & daddy’s bonding. Daddy this is your time too! Babies know your heartbeat, scent, voices, tones etc. Skin to skin is the best way to bond with your new little one. (When baby is stable enough to do so!).


You can also decorate the baby’s area. Decorating your baby’s Isolette with each milestone is a another great way to create that special bond. Bring "Home" to the Hospital. Bring pieces of your family’s life to place in your infant’s isolette or crib in the form of family photos, a special blanket, artwork from siblings, and more. (Some NICUs are more strict on policies so just ask what they allow). Etsy has come fun "MileStone Cards," and NICU decor to offer. Many families find that making a sign with your baby’s name, decorating with family pictures, or adding other personal touches can feel like you are giving your baby a piece of home while you are away.


This is something you & your baby can look back on & it can also give you an outlet to express how you’re feeling at that moment. This is not only a great outlet for you in the moment, but also something to look back on.


Some families find that documenting their baby’s experience in the NICU by journaling or scrapbooking (either digitally or in physical form) can be helpful.

In this moment, taking photos and journaling experiences may feel very tender or even painful. I encourage you to document what you can and when you feel able. In moments when you’re not feeling up to it, ask someone else to help you do this by taking pictures or writing memories. This is an important part of your story as parents as well as an important part of your baby’s story, and you will be so thankful to have these memories documented in the future.


Thank goodness for technology! Some NICUs have a “NIC-VIEW” camera (a little camera that can be placed above your baby’s bed) that mother can view live online. This is a great opportunity for parents that can’t always be at their baby's bed side.


Take a class through a certified infant massage instructor and utilize techniques with your MEDICALLY STABLE baby. Benefits include reduced levels of cortisol (stress hormone), increased muscle tone, and supported parent-infant interactions, among others. Speak with your baby’s doctor and bedside nurse before using this technique with your medically fragile infant.


Check with NICU staff to learn what cloth items are appropriate to place in baby’s space. Sleep with that item or wear it all day tucked under your clothing, then place in your baby’s space. Swapping scents back and forth from mother and father to baby are well documented evidence based practiced outcomes! Not only will this help your baby, but it is also a source of comfort for you! You can find "Lovies" on Amazon or Etsy if your NICU does not offer them.


This can feel like the most overwhelming time in your life. You may experience a plethora of emotions. Overwhelmed, frustrated, and even loneliness. This is a great time to use people around you who want to help. Whether is is a family member or distanced friend, lean into their help. From delivered dinners, help with laundry, childcare, transportation, amazon gift cards, etc. Let these people in your life help you. This can truly help you, which will ultimately help you and your beautiful baby.


This time can be one of the most overwhelming times of your life. If you feel overwhelmed and insecure, you’re not alone or failing at this. If you’re feeling sad or confused, that’s okay. These are all such normal responses. It's ok to take some time way, revive yourself. Take a shower, sleep, take a walk, refocus your mindset.

One of the most important components of this time frame is parental involvement, both in gains for the baby and in fostering an appropriate parent/baby relationship that will allow for an easy transition to home. All care should be family centered, and every effort should be made to involve parents in all aspects of cares for the baby. It is during this stage that we prepare both baby and parents for discharge from the small baby unit. Our ultimate goal is to empower the family to become the best caregivers for their infant, thereby improving the outcomes of the baby and the satisfaction of the family. You got this!

Also see: "13 NICU Preemie Gifts and Tips!"

NICU Essential Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics

Childhood & Adult Immunization CDC Guidelines

March of Dimes! Resources for parents & providers

Access 1,300+ Drugs with Easy-to-Understand Lactation Risk Categories

Tori's Tips on NICU NURSE 101:

See Blog Post

Tori Meskin BSN RNC-NIC. Nurse. Blogger. Podcaster. Tori has been a clinician since 2012, works in acute care/inpatient NICU & Pediatric settings in southern California. She is a blogger, podcaster, NICU & Pediatric Critical Care RN, Sponsored Capella University MSN student, a Barco Uniforms Ambassador & Brave beginnings Ambassador. She has obtained her National NICU Nurse Certification (RNC-NIC) & has previously worked as a travel nurse, pursuing bedside experiences in several NICU settings. Follow her as she shares her NICU journey married life & juggles work, school, content creation, & brings you top notch Tips & Tricks along the way. Find her at www.tipsfromtori.com or info@tipsfromtori.com

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