The role of parents in comfort and pain relief

Father looking down and caressing his sleeping baby.

Find out about your role in comforting your baby during their procedures on the neonatal unit.

How can I help comfort my baby?

When it comes to procedures on the neonatal unit, a parent’s touch, voice, smell, and presence can all contribute to reducing their baby’s discomfort or pain.

Parents also play an important role in watching their babies while in neonatal care. You can become an expert in understanding how your baby is feeling, including if they are uncomfortable or in pain.

Neonatal staff can help you spot signs that your baby is in pain or upset, and they can help you find ways to make your baby more comfortable.

How will I know what to do?

Touching and holding your baby can be overwhelming, especially if they are particularly small or connected to medical equipment.

The neonatal care team can show you ways to safely touch your baby, helping you build confidence as a parent. If you are not shown how to safely touch and comfort your baby, don’t be afraid to ask a member of the care team for help.

There is lots of research that shows all parents can have a positive impact on their baby’s care. Go to our references page for a full list of this research.

At first, I was not confident at all picking him up as he was extremely small and there were many wires and tubes to navigate. However, as time went on, I became much more confident.

Arvinder, dad to his son, born at 29 weeks & spent 65 days in care

Neonatal staff can help you learn ways of handling your baby until you feel confident to do them yourself. If your baby is very ill or very small, check with staff before lifting or holding your baby – they can guide you in the safest way to do it.

If you would like to be more involved in comforting your baby, you can ask staff questions like:

  • “Is there anything we can do to comfort our baby while you do the next procedure?”
  • “Is this a procedure that you could do while we hold our baby?”

Visit our section working together with the neonatal care team for a full list of questions you can ask the neonatal team.

Always wash your hands before touching your baby to help prevent infection. Warm your hands before touching your baby using warm water when you wash, by placing your hands in the incubator for a few minutes, or by rubbing them together.

Visit our page about helping your baby to avoid infections for more information.

I could see how much it helped my little one too. On days I wouldn’t be able to do skin-to-skin, her oxygen levels would be all over the place.

Marija, mum to her daughter, born at 26 weeks & spent 3 months in care

In this video mum Egle discusses how to be involved in the comfort of her baby during his medical procedures with Dr Roshni Mansfield.

What if I don’t feel like I’m ready to be involved?

Having a baby in the neonatal unit is a very stressful and emotional time. Some parents may not feel ready to be involved in their baby’s care, especially if they have experienced a difficult birth.

This isn't unusual – many of the parents we have worked with said that it took some time for them to be confident holding their baby. It can take even longer to feel confident caring for your baby with tasks like feeding, changing nappies and comforting them during procedures.

Remember that Bliss is here for you. If you need emotional support, please book a call with one of our online Champions. If you are a parent or carer, you can connect with others by joining our private Facebook group. You can also find more information about parents' mental health.

I just felt overwhelmed and sometimes incredibly pressured to hold him and, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel able to do so.

Rebecca, mum to her son, born at 31 weeks & spent 8 weeks in care

If you aren’t able to, or aren’t ready to hold your baby, you can still provide comfort by:

  • Speaking, reading or singing to them.
  • Placing a square of material with your scent or breastmilk in their cot or incubator.
  • Both parents can also keep a piece of material on their body and switch it regularly with the one your baby has. This will keep your smell fresh for your baby.

The information in this section is due for review November 2026