Can Holding Your Premature Baby Help to Improve His Health?

If your baby is born prematurely, you can worry for their wellbeing, as well as overall family wellness. Premature babies can go through countless procedures in an intimidating neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which can make you feel like you have no part to play in your baby’s health or happiness, but new research from the School of Nursing suggests that you have a bigger role in your baby’s wellness than you might think.

Marsha Campbell-Yeo is an assistant professor at Dal and a clinician scientist and nurse practitioner with the IWK Health Centre. She researches how maternal-driven interventions can help improve outcomes for at-risk preterm and full-term infants, specifically looking into how skin-to-skin contact from mothers can help babies better manage pain and stress during procedures. According to Dr Campbell-Yeo, ‘We’ve shown there’s tremendous benefit in something as simple as having a mother hold her baby skin-to-skin during a procedure — up to 30% reduction in the short-term pain response, as well as improvements in how the newborn regulates that pain.’

Premature babies can undergo as many as 500 to 1000 painful procedures as part of their medical care, and so any relief that you can provide your baby with is crucial. Dr Campbell-Yeo explained, ‘Repeated exposure to these procedures can lead to changes in how they perceive pain, and how they regulate not just pain but other forms of stress later in life. There’s also new, emerging literature that considers how it can actually change the way their brains develop.’

Dr Campbell-Yeo and her colleagues have shown similar pain relieving benefits when skin-to-skin contact is provided by fathers, unrelated women, and even a twin, and though the majority of her research has looked at the tiniest and most fragile babies, she asserts that healthy children also benefit from being close to their mother. Dr Campbell-Yeo said, ‘All babies experience pain. With changes in immunization practices, children now undergo up to 20 injections in the first few years of life. Given that up to one in 10 older children and adults now have needle fear, minimizing routine pain associated with these procedures may help with larger problems down the road.’

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