A premature baby's skin is delicate and sensitive and how you treat it is really important
Evidence of baby massage dating back 3000 years, it is considered as routine as weaning and walking in regions such as Africa, India, Asia and the Caribbean. Nurturing touch is a fundamental part of a baby’s well-being and development. “Touch is the child’s first language”
Skin is the largest sensory organ, acts as a waterproof, insulating shield, guarding against extremes temperature and harmful chemicals. It uses the nerves to keep the brain in touch with the outside world. Touching your premature baby employs all of their senses and this is what generates the feeling of love and protection towards that child.
It is always best to check that baby is ready for touch – if they are in an incubator, with humidity and oxygen, having the porthole doors open can affect this, and may cause harm to your baby. Ask the nurse looking after your little one if it is appropriate – you’ll soon learn your baby’s cues, when they are asking for some love and attention, and those times that they might want to be left alone.
Importance of touch
- Reduces crying and can settle baby
- Studies in baby monkeys showing that touch and physical contact can be more important than food
- Touch-deprivation can be damaging to your premature baby as they can’t use their under-developed motor skills to control this.
- Some babies will have touch intolerance, where they are over sensitive to touch, or can’t tolerate certain body parts being touched. Never force strokes on the baby. If they aren’t enjoying the touch, listen to their cues, and stop.
- Promotes bonding and attachment
- Increases sense of love, acceptance and trust
- Enhances communication
- Improves ability to read baby cues
- Increases confidence in parenting
- Strengthens digestive and circulatory systems, which can improve weight gain
- Improves muscle tone – used in partnership with the physiotherapy your premature baby might receive on the NICU.
What can I put on my premature baby’s skin?
Most NICU’s use cotton wool and plain water for nappy care. Wipes can be a bit too harsh on delicate, immature skin, so it's best to keep things plain and simple. You can start to introduce wipes and gentle baby products once your baby’s skin becomes more robust. Some NICU’s use petroleum jelly as a barrier cream for baby’s delicate nappy area, and to stop the wt nappy sticking to the skin – but try to refrain from putting it anywhere else, as it can block pores and cause dryness. Other medicated creams that you might use on a full term baby might be too harsh on premature skin.
Breastmilk is the best thing to use for eyecare and mouth care – but if this isn’t available, or in short supply, you can use sterile water, which the nurses looking after your baby can provide for you.
Advice about using oils on your premature baby's skin
For your premature baby’s skin you should use pure, non-scented, cold pressed vegetable oil (nut or fruit oils can be used, but NOT if there are any signs of allergies). Coconut oil shouldn’t be used for baby massage purposes because it is a coolant – just like when us grown-ups use the coconut suntan lotion and after-sun to soothe and cool our skin.
Sunflower oil is used often because it is light on the skin, easily absorbed and has a minimal aroma. Its important use unscented oil as too-strong scents can interrupt the bonding process, as baby can’t smell the natural smells and pheromones.
Baby oils should not be used for massage as if blocks the skin pores and dries out the skin.
If your premature baby has nappy rash or skin breakdown, speak to the doctors and nurses on your unit to find out what they recommend for it. Each unit has its own policy and procedure on things like this, and they will know what delicate lotions and potions will help protect and heal your premature babies skin.