As a parent in the neonatal unit you may feel daunted and at the mercy of the staff but in fact a critical part of your healing is to be part of the team and to take an active role in the care of your baby. The team in the neonatal unit consists of a paediatrician, a neonatologist, a neonatal nurse, a variety of specialists who will be called in when necessary (cardiologist (heart), audiologist (hearing), neurologist (brain), nephrologist (kidneys), ophthalmologist (vision) and pathologist (blood infections) amongst others), a radiographer, a breastfeeding counselor, a social worker and a developmental OT or physiotherapist and a speech and language therapist. Add to this team three critical people: your baby, you and your partner. As part of the team, you need to have mutual respect and trust between all of you.
As the mum or dad, you are critical because you bring three unique and vital aspects to your baby’s care:
- The value of consistency – you are the most consistent person around your baby. Nurses will come and go and be off duty but you are there as the constant in your child’s life. You are there now and will be there for her entire childhood. With time you will be the one who knows your baby best in the neonatal unit and who she perceives as consistent and predictable on a sensory level.
- Speak for your baby – As the most consistent person and the only member of the team who cannot be replaced, your role is vital. You will observe her responses to interventions and to sensory input. You will learn the pattern of what gets done when and how your baby responds. You are the perfect advocate who stands in for your baby and diplomatically communicates her needs. Within a period of time, you will know what sensory input she responds well to and the effect of interactions.
- Understand her state – Your baby has a unique language that will tell you what she is coping well with and what is distressing her. Get to know your baby’s signals and you will soon be the team member who can translate your baby’s responsiveness and her ability to tolerate an interaction at that time.