The importance of touch for premature babies

The importance of touch for premature babies

Physiotherapist Mandy works in Mater Mothers’ Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU) supporting families who have premature and critically ill babies to connect through touch which improves function and reduce the risk of developmental issues later in life. 

Mandy works as part of a multidisciplinary Developmental Care Team with other allied health professionals including occupational therapists, speech pathologists and dieticians focused on supporting babies and their families during such a difficult period of their lives. 

“The role of the physiotherapist in the NCCU is so varied. We know that babies who are born pre-term or with complications are at higher risk of developmental issues later in life. We primarily focus on the muscular, neurological and respiratory systems and working on maximising their function,” Mandy said.

“Early intervention is the best way to improve a baby’s function. We do see some babies that we know will need follow up intervention especially if they have a recognised disability at birth.

“I also work in follow up clinics with parents once the babies have left the NCCU, it’s wonderful to see the parents at these appointments and they tell you what an amazing impact physiotherapy had for them.” 

Mandy said despite the babies in the NCCU being so small they are stronger than they look and it’s important for their development to touch and interact with them when they are ready. 

“One of the most important roles we do is helping parents to connect with their babies, we can often see babies born weighing less than one kilogram and parents are so fearful to touch them. We teach parents how they can safely touch and hold their babies even if they have feeding tubes, oxygen or a stoma,” Mandy said. 

“When the time is right, we teach them how to pick up their baby, hold them, cuddle them and even play with them when they are ready for this.  We show them how to bath them and how they can enjoy their bath time, moving them around in the water and exposing their baby to different sensory experiences in a calm and measured way. When the time is right, we can also practice tummy time. 

“This is all dependent on the size of the baby and how unwell they are as to what we can do, sometimes we might just show parents how to do a containment hold, placing their hands over their baby to calm them down and how to speak to their baby to make them feel safe.” 

Mandy said her job is incredibly rewarding and she loves being with families on their journey through the NCCU and supporting them to connect with their babies through physical touch.  

“The NCCU can sometimes be such a clinical space and it’s so wonderful to teach parents how they can interact with their baby. The parents are able to be very involved in their care and learn about who their baby is as a person,” Mandy said. 

Director of the NCCU Dr Pita Birch said Mandy played an important role in the unit.

“Mandy was instrumental in setting up the parent education classes and that she is an integral part of the multidisciplinary team providing excellent family-centred developmental care in the NCCU,” Pita said. 

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