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Bonding with Your Preemie

If your baby's one of the more than 1,400 infants born prematurely each day, you could find yourself spending a lot of time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

It can be scary to see your newborn connected to machines, but that doesn't have to keep you from bonding. Here's how:

* Snuggle up. You can have daily skin-to-skin contact with a baby connected to monitors. By holding your infant against your chest, you'll help regulate her heart rate and breathing, maintain her body warmth, keep her calm, and help her sleep more soundly. You benefit, too: Skin-to-skin contact can boost breast-milk production while helping you overcome fears about handling a fragile-looking infant.

* Stroke soothingly. Preemies who are softly stroked  -- on their hands, feet, or heads  -- by their parents for 15-minute periods at least three times a day are calmer, according to a recent study. It's especially helpful during or right after procedures that agitate your child, like a blood test.

* Get involved. Your baby might not be able to take a breast or bottle right away, but you can hold her during tube feedings and help with other daily activities such as sponge baths and diaper changes. Expressing your breast milk for her is another great way to feel connected.

* Be vocal. Talking and singing reacquaints your baby with your voice, which she's familiar with after months in your womb. You can even record yourself singing or reading stories and have a nurse play it for your child when you can't be with her.