You probably think your premature baby looks so fragile – and chances are she is.
Having arrived very early into this world, there are likely to be some medical complications and she is also more vulnerable to illnesses than other babies.
You may even be afraid to have physical contact with her for fear of hurting or distressing her.
It is true that for many years, the advice given to parents of preemies was to keep all touch to a minimum because there was fear that infection could be spread this way – less touch meant less risk.
There was also concern that too much touch might over-stimulate the baby’s under-developed neurological system, and hence, would put too much strain on her small, vulnerable little body.
In addition, there are the practicalities to consider.
If your premature baby is still in the neonatal ward in hospital, you may be very apprehensive about touching her, in case you upset the feeding tubes, wires or any other pieces of equipment that surround her. That’s a normal reaction.
But your preemie has a strong emotional need for touch, in the same way as any other baby.
There have been many research studies that have examined the effect of various types of touch on the development of a premature baby.
While the results of such projects are to some extent conflicting – some show significant physical progress when a premature baby is deliberately touched in a gentle manner by her parents, others show no long-term positive physical effects – no study appears to have found that a preemie is harmed by gentle touch.
So at worst, there is no immediate physical benefit; and at best, she will gain weight more rapidly and develop at a faster rate.
And there are the emotional benefits to consider. Humans need physical contact with other humans, that’s a universal feature of all babies, children and adults.
Through touch, we gain a sense of emotional warmth, a feeling of security, and a sensation that we belong.
Gentle physical contact helps you and your baby form that all important emotional bond which acts as the foundation for her future psychological development.
Bear in mind that there are two ways in which your preemie experiences touch. First, she feels human contact against her skin during basic care tasks, such as washing and changing.
That’s why, for instance, you should take your time when putting a new nappy on your preemie. Your own enjoyment of these moments will be transmitted to her, making these enjoyable for both of you.
Get involved in these daily care events as soon as you can; avoid the temptation to rush through them quickly.
In all instances, check that your hands are warm before you touch her skin, as she is very sensitive to temperature, and avoid rapid or harsh movements against her skin.
Talk to her at the same time. Through watching her reactions, you’ll very quickly learn which type of touch she likes best.