It’s hard to believe that March is over and it’s already April!! Spring’s just around the corner but if you have a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU, you may still be feeling the winter blues or just trying to figure out your next steps. Even though your baby may be in the NICU please know there are still many opportunities for you to bond with your child and to effectively parent in the midst of all the medical decision making and what often seems like an organized circus of lights, labs, sounds and monitors!
There are a couple of new and exciting therapies being pioneered in the NICU not only to empower parents but ultimately to empower babies. One such therapy is sound therapy. A recent journal article noted that there is very preliminary evidence to support the positive biological effects of the mother’s voice and heartbeat on the premature brain. 40 preemies were continuously exposed to the sound of their mother’s voice reading “Good Night Moon and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” through a semi womblike environment for 3 hours a day for 30 days while other infants received standard care. Preliminary evidence showed that those infants exposed to their mother’s voice and heart beat had larger auditory regions of the brain than those who did not.
This study is particularly important because preterm infants are more likely to have problems with hearing and problems with delayed speech. If the parts of the brain that controls these areas is larger in those infants systematically continually exposed to their mother’s voice and heart beat postnatalyl, it is possible that those infant’s may have better outcomes developmentally. Of course this remains to be seen but it is exciting to think about something I am sure we can all agree upon Mom’s voice is the best kind of comfort both in the womb and out of the womb no matter how old you are. (http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/02/sound-mom-s-voice-boosts-brain-growth-premature-babies)
Another practice that is becoming more common in NICU’s is the practice of infant massage. Infant massage is a wonderful way for both mother’s and father’s to bond with the baby during that waiting period that many NICU parents know so well. Waiting to get bigger, waiting to get off the ventilator, waiting to take the first bottle. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do but if your baby is stable enough for kangaroo care or skin to skin contact consider learning a few basic techniques of infant massage. Many neonatal intensive care units have occupational therapist trained in infant massage and are happy to teach parents some of the basic techniques. Basic infant massage generally flows from the head to the toes, beginning with the head, forehead, crown, around the eyes, nose and mouth, to the jaws, chest, stomach, arms, and legs and fingers. Generally the back of an infant should not be massaged but gentle placement of hands on the back while massaging shoulders is soothing for many infants.
The overall touch should be soft and gentle. Many parents use this time to speak or sing softly to the baby as well as recite their favorite prayers or verses. As your baby gets older this time will become more and more special and you can find yourself using basic massage techniques during routine care of infant including bathing, dressing or changing a diaper. Older infants may also benefit from the use of essential oil such as lavender. However these oils are generally not recommended for extremely preterm infants. It is important to consult a reputable source before placing oils on any infant, as some oils can be toxic for infants and must be diluted or be used with a carrier oil or not at all. Some massage techniques and essential oils have been shown to be associated with decreased colic symptoms and decreased allergy symptoms in older infants .
I hope you enjoy your Springtime with your baby! It may be still cold outside but the warmth of a baby no matter how big or small, premature or term, sick or well always brings everything into perspective. I pray you get to read and sing to your baby daily and especially that you get to pass on the gift of human touch daily. We know that babies love that…and guess what you will too! Happy March!