Posted at: 01/02/2013 8:49 AM
By: Ericka Edwards, NBC News
Nurses are encouraging moms and dads to provide a healing touch to premature babies, even when they physically can't be there.
To stay alive and thrive, premature babies in the neo-natal intensive care unit may endure as many as 14 painful medical procedures a day.
"A lot of those things require tape around the face, so there's a lot of negative experiences in and around the face," says occupational therapist Victoria Kunkel.
That makes it important to teach these babies about positive touch.
Kangaroo Care, as it's called, is when babies lie on mom or dad's chest for skin-to-skin contact.
Jennifer Marks Kangaroos her twin daughters Emme and Sabrina, who were born three months premature.
"It stabilizes them and it makes them sleep better and I feel like it's a big benefit. It really helps them get them right back on track in case they have a little rough day," Marks says.
Such closeness can help regulate breathing and heart rates and even have an analgesic effect.
"You know we have to give babies a shot of Vitamin K right after they're born, and if you do this when a baby's in kangaroo care, they don't even flinch," says nurse Debbie Smith.
When mom and dad can't be there NICU nurses are using a little device called the Zaky Hand.
"It's designed so that moms can sleep with the hand and then put it in the isolette or the crib with the baby in the NICU so that it has mom or dad's scent," Kunkel explains.
The nurses say babies who cuddle with the hand tend to sleep better, which is critical to their brain development.