As soon as your baby is well enough, it is ideal if you start to look after their daily needs, just like any parent with a new baby. This helps you and your baby get to know each other and it helps to build your confidence.
The nurses will show you how to manage everyday tasks, which they might refer to you as your baby’s ‘cares’. You may feel all fingers and thumbs to start with, but don’t worry – practice makes perfect.
Cleaning your baby’s face and mouth can help you get involved in your baby’s care very early on. Try to do this when your baby appears to be awake and comfortable.
If you have expressed some breast milk, dip a cotton bud into the milk and clean your baby’s mouth very slowly, with a gentle press-and-scoop action to the lips. If your baby looks interested in the taste, let them suck on the cotton bud. You can use sterile water for your baby’s mouth care too.
At first you may want to watch the nurse change your baby’s nappy, and then gradually master it yourself, one step at a time. When you are ready to get involved, ask the nurse if you can take a first step by finishing off the nappy change, just fixing the clean nappy in place and settling your baby afterwards. Then as you feel more confident, take the process further each time.
To start with, the nurses may advise against washing your baby. The concern is that washing could cool your baby down, which is something to avoid. The little flakes of dried-on blood and waxy ‘vernix’ (the white substance that coats the skin of newborn babies) will do no harm and are best left where they are.
Some very small babies find a first bath less stressful if they are wrapped up (swaddled). Ask the nurse if this is something they do on your baby’s unit. You should be able to give your baby their first bath, with help from the nurse. It can be very daunting at first, but it won’t take long before you are confident.
Of course, feeding is an essential part of looking after your baby. You can find out more information about feeding here
When you feel ready and as soon as your baby is stable enough, neonatal staff will encourage you to hold your baby directly against you, skin-to-skin. You can find out more information about this in the next section