I knew I wanted to babywear before my son was even born. That was over two years ago. Along the way I’ve learned so much, met so many amazing people, gone through many carriers, and have become a volunteer babywearing educator. What I didn’t realize was that I was going to get a hands on crash course in special needs wearing: preemie babywearing. In my third pregnancy, I was diagnosed with IUGR; my baby wasn’t growing properly inside. She was born at 32 weeks gestation weighing only 980g, which is 2lb2.6oz. As with many babies, she lost weight before gaining and dropped down to 1lb7oz. It took her several weeks to gain enough that I felt confident trying to wear her. When she was a little under 3lbs, I wrapped her for the first time. It was the most amazing feeling – instantly calming. My only regret is not using a carrier as a blanket earlier in our journey. I grew increasingly more confident in my abilities to wear her safely and to juggle all the wires and “extras” that come along with a preemie. Now that we are home after a 53 day NICU stay, I wear her or use a wrap in some way daily.
There are so many amazing benefits of babywearing with a preemie (or using a carrier in some way): It facilitates the mom/caregiver – baby bond. You can do skin to skin while keeping the baby covered. The NICU is a very regulated experience – this is one of the few things only you can do for your baby. After missing out on so much time snuggling, wearing allows for some extra special time together. If you’re able, babywearing is a great connector to breastfeeding.
There are a few extra considerations when babywearing with a preemie though: Stability. First, your baby has to be stable enough. Even though the NICU allows and encourages kangaroo care in the early days, your baby may not be stable enough for you to mess with a carrier. In these times, I’d encourage using your carrier to drape over you and baby. You having your baby’s smell and vice versa is an awesome tool for calmness, security, and if pumping, a physical object to help increase production. If you have any question about if your baby can safely be worn, feel free to ask the nurses/neonatologists. Some may not understand babywearing but they don’t have to – all they need to do is confirm that your baby would be safe to be worn. Support. Your preemie more than likely has lower than normal tone. If not throughout their body, in certain areas. My little one was evaluated by a physical therapist and while most of what she exhibited was on track, she did have lower tone in her core. This is key when wearing. Whatever carrier you choose needs to be extra supportive for that itty bitty body. My suggestion and my own go to’s are a woven wrap or a ring sling. My only ring slings are wrap conversions but a standard ring sling would provide the same support. A woven or a ring sling are ideal for newborns as it is but more so for a premature baby due to the moldability. You as the wearer have the ability to contour the carrier to the baby as well as yourself more than any other type of carrier. I also would discourage the use of stretchy wraps, soft structured carriers, and mei tais. All of these can be used down the road but don’t provide the unique ability to conform and provide support at the same time. “Extras”. You know, all those annoying extras that you don’t sign up for when you choose to babywear. The cords, the alarms, the tubes, bandages, etc. In the hospital my little one was on monitors, oxygen towards the end of her stay, had a feeding tube, and liked to toy with us and make her oxygen saturation monitor go off – a lot. Now that we are home, she is on a smart monitor that includes two sticky pads on her chest connected to a cord as well as a pulse ox monitor that is attached to her foot on a separate cord. She also was sent home on oxygen so we have the cannula with tubing connected to a concentrator in our living room. Because of how low of an oxygen setting she is on, I am not comfortable attaching a long 25′ connector to be able to go throughout the house. Because of this, we are confined to the living room until she is off oxygen or I become so annoyed I resort to a portable tank. What I found to work the best is to have the oxygen totally separate and off to the other side so as not to get in the way. The other cords are easiest for me coming out the top of the carrier. So they don’t get pulled down and possibly have the attachments come loose from her, I tuck the heavy connectors into the carrier as well. Babywearing can be daunting to some, especially someone who just delves in. It can be daunting to even an experienced wearer if there are special circumstances involved. I encourage those who are questioning if it’s ok and if they’ll do it properly to try it! In the nicu, you have the safety net of alarms and professionals all around you. Utilize this to allow yourself to become confident enough in your positioning. And there are always educators or even caregivers who have been there done that that are more than willing to offer their tips, tricks, and give encouragement. I know wearing has been a huge lifesaver in our bonding and I am grateful daily that I can snuggle my baby and make some awesome memories and even friends.