Prematurity Awareness Month: Understanding challenges for mothers and their babies

While the NICU can be a scary place, there are ways to connect mothers and their babies

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. The NICU can be a frightening place, and medical separation of babies from their parents is a difficult experience for the baby as well as the parents.

When a baby is in the NICU, the natural nurturing interactions between a new mom and baby are interrupted in the early days of life, making it challenging for both the mother and baby.

But the relationship and emotional connection is essential for your well-being and for the baby.

The Family Nurture Care program at University Health understands the relationship is an essential part of your baby’s healthy growth and development and your well-being, too.

Trained bedside nurses and nurture specialists can help strengthen the emotional connection with your child through Family Nurture Care’s “calming cycles.” These are guided sensory activities with emotional expression that make your autonomic nervous systems work together to calm each other.

“The first thing we want to do is to make you feel safe, to acknowledge that this is hard, and that is normal. It’s OK to be scared. We’re going to walk along side you and make it safe for you to do some exercises that bring you closer to your baby,” Umber Darilek, Ph.D., RN and Family Nurture Specialist with UT Health San Antonio, University Health’s academic partner, said.

Activities include:

  • Scent cloth exchange
  • Practicing eye contact
  • Touching from the earliest days
  • Holding your baby
  • Singing, talking, and reading to your baby
  • Emotional expression
  • Noticing how your baby cues to you

Family Nurture Care has been shown to improve social relatedness, attention and neurodevelopment in preterm infants. It has also been shown to decrease depression and anxiety for mothers, Darilek said.

For more information on the Family Nurture Care Program, visit the University Health website at