Attachment in the NICU
There are many effects that having a premature or medically complex baby can have on the psychology of parents, but one of the most profound is that the ways in which you can attach with your baby are no longer a "given". In fact, you may not even be able to hold your baby for some time after birth if they are especially medically fragile. This is a sacrifice that only a NICU parent knows, and one that requires some navigation in order to salvage and rebuild your attachment with your child.
As a NICU parent, have you struggled with:
- feeling disembodied as a parent; or like the nurses and doctors are your baby's primary caretakers, while you are merely a bystander
- concern over whether you will ever have a "normal" attachment with your baby
- overwhelming anxiety when you are separated from your baby when you have to go home from the hospital
- feeling like you've had to sacrifice many of your hopes for attachment with your child
- frustration with nurses and other hospital staff who sometimes get the privilege of providing your baby's "firsts" (ie. bath, clothes, bottle feeding, etc.)
- having trouble feeling "connected" with your baby once they've been discharged home
- anxiety over becoming the primary caretaker once your baby comes home
- feeling mournful that you've had to sacrifice your hopes for attachment parenting
- wondering whether your child knows that your are his/her parent, and not the staff at the hospital
- unable to feel bonded with your baby when they come home due to fears about their health and development
It's very common for parents to feel disenfranchised of the role they hoped to have in parenting their baby when the family has to go through the NICU experience. Many parents feel the aforementioned effects on their bond with their baby, and sometimes more. What's wonderful is:
When you work towards healing yourself, your baby can reap the benefits.
Studies have shown that clinical interventions with parents of babies in the NICU have resulted in improved relationships between parents and their offspring, improved developmental capacity for the infant (as a well-attached parent will seek out appropriate therapeutic interventions for their infant), and overall improved stability within the family.
Having a baby in the NICU feels very different than having a "take-home baby" for whom you provide all care, and requires an adjustment of your perception and beliefs. Together, we can examine what your beliefs and expectations of attachment were prior to the birth experience and hospitalization of your baby. We can examine how attachment works in the brain, different methods of facilitating attachment with your baby in the NICU and afterward, process what you may be feeling physically in being separated from your baby, and make plans about what things might look like when the baby comes home. For parents that are already home from the hospital, we can work on looking at the strengths of the bond you have with your child and how to cope with preemie-specific challenges like reflux, colic, and/or medical interventions that may be challenging.