These tips include advice I was given, and things I learned the hard way while my son Hugo was being cared for. Having a baby in a neonatal unit is so stressful - I hope this helps other mummies and daddies.
They are not in order of importance (a list needs to start and end somewhere!)
1. It's good to talk. And sing...
Your voice will offer comfort to your baby.
Hugo's daddy and I read books out loud, describing the pictures.
Hugo loved the nursery rhymes I sang to him. When he was having a good day, he boogied away to my singing. They also helped calm him on a not-so-good day.
Remember premature babies hate loud noises, and too much light. Try to keep your voice low, and the incubator cover on as much as possible.
2. Get hands-on:
A simple comfort hold can be hugely reassuring for both you and your baby, and I did this every day.
Changing a nappy through the incubator doors and with the tangle of wires is interesting! With the support and encouragement of Hugo's nurses, I was eventually able to do the whole nappy change, poo and all.
I helped wash Hugo, and he would make me laugh, screwing up his face like a proper little boy.
Some nurses will actively encourage you to get involved with your baby's care, and others will get on with doing them themselves. I would have a chat with Hugo's nurse to ask when the cares were planned to make sure I could be there, whenever possible, to do it.
3. Look after yourself:
Having a baby on the neonatal unit is stressful and exhausting. I was also recovering from a C-section and a serious illness. I was knackered. All the time.
I ignored repeated advice to go and rest, so my body took charge and gave me viral symptoms.
Thankfully they didn't come to anything, but it meant a day out of the unit on enforced rest (for my own good, and in case I was infectious).
That meant no time with Hugo, no helping with cares, and no cuddle that day.
I felt even guiltier than before.
So, take time out. Rest.
Oh, and invest in hand cream - men too! All that hand washing makes your skin very dry, meaning alcohol gel stings.
4. It's good to talk:
The medical terminology can be bewildering. Never be afraid to ask the staff lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. If you don't understand an answer, ask again.
Sometimes I found it useful to seek an explanation from someone else - different people can communicate things in more helpful ways.
Take advantage of every opportunity that is offered to talk to someone. It's good to get your feelings, hopes and fears out in to the open. You might not find everyone you talk to useful, but you won't know that until you try.
5. Record, record, record:
It's so important to mark milestones: it's incredible what you get excited about, such as your baby's first poo!
Hugo's progress was recorded through daily photos, videos, and Facebook updates. These updates meant that these friends and family got to know Hugo, and were rooting for him. Their messages of support meant that we never felt we were facing the journey unsupported.
6. Express your milk (if you are able):
Infection is a daily risk for these babies. You may know that breast milk contains vital antibodies to help develop your baby's immune system.
Don't be too proud or shy to ask for help to learn the right technique for expressing.
Hugo tolerated my milk, and I was so proud the day he came off the artificial feed and got 100% of his nutrition through it.
7. Have plenty of cuddles:
We had our first skin-to-skin cuddles with Hugo when he was four weeks old. Feeling his chest against mine, his fingers tracing my skin, kicking me with his feet and gently boogying as I sang to him was the best feeling in the world.
Talk to your baby's nurse about cuddles - Hugo's needs meant his nurses had to make sure they had a colleague on hand for support.
8. With a little help from your friends, and family:
Accept help and visitors wisely - sometimes the help you need can differ from the support an individual is able to offer. Choose visitors who will be able to offer proactive assistance. Visitors who need entertaining can cause further stress, and precious time away from your baby.
Sometimes the best support can be from having a friend available at the end of the phone, just to listen.
9. Be kind:
Get to know other parents, and make friends.
Offer a hug when they need it, or a friendly ear.
You never know when you might that need the same in return.
Remember that every parent shares the same aim: to take their precious baby home.
This is an edited version of a post originally published on the author's blog, Headspace Perspective.