HOLD HIM CLOSE As soon as you (and dad) are allowed, hold baby with his bare chest against yours. It's called kangaroo care, and numerous studies have shown preemies who have skin-to-skin contact gain weight faster, have a more stable heart rate, are able to nurse and go home sooner.
BREAST IS BEST Breastfeed if you can; pump if you can't. Every drop of your breast milk is lifesaving to a preemie — plus, you'll feel a real sense of purpose. You can rent a hospital-grade pump — its motor can handle the demands of pumping around the clock.
CHAT HER UP Sit close and talk, sing or read to your baby; she'll find the familiar sound of your voice comforting. Ask staffers if you can leave an inexpensive digital voice recorder so they can play a recording of you talking or singing lullabies to your infant when you're not there.
MAKE IT HOMEY Make your little corner of the NICU more pleasant — and positive — for you and your baby by bringing in family photos, a special blanket or a couple of stuffed animals to place around the area. Bonus: Your scent on a cloth or toy will comfort baby when you're not around.
TAKE CARE OF YOU You can easily get burned out by spending too much time at the hospital. “It's OK to take a day off from the NICU,” says April Kinker of Hammond, Indiana, whose daughter Sophia was born at 24 weeks. “You've just been through a traumatic event and have to take care of yourself as well.” Eat healthful foods, catch up on sleep and try stress-reducing tactics (meditation, long baths, aromatherapy) when you're home.
BE THERE Take part in your baby's care as often as you're allowed. “Get to the NICU at feeding time, diaper-changing time and temperature-taking time,” says New Yorker Dunica Charles, whose daughter Dahliah was born weighing 2 pounds 2 ounces. “It not only frees up the nurses, it helps you feel useful.”
BIG BROTHER Some NICUs across the country offer password-protected Webcam access to babies through Nicview (nicview.net). If your hospital offers this service, you can watch baby on any mobile device when you can't be at his side.
“NEST” IF POSSIBLE Before we ventured home with AJ, I stayed overnight at the hospital in a private room set aside for preemies and moms. (It was an option at our hospital; at some, it's mandatory.) Nurses were available, but I took care of him by myself — a real confidence-booster.