The Power of an Embrace: How Hugs Helped My NICU Baby

And how it can help other babies, too

The Power of an Embrace: How Hugs Helped My NICU Baby

The way I remember the day of my son’s birth is through a series of lights:

The early morning light streaming into our hospital room after his birth, a brightness I will never forget.

Then the absence of light as evening drew near and we heard the news of our little one’s declining health.

Finally, there were the fluorescent lights, a harshness forever planted in my memory, as we were told our newborn son would be spending his first night in the intensive care unit.

Our first hours together were wonderful, a calmness had come over me as I held him in my arms and watched the sunrise through the icy hospital windows, but as the hours went on, he spent less time in my arms, and the darkness of evening brought about a fear of the unknown as he was taken from us to the NICU.

The days that followed seemed to drag on forever as we waited out the hours in between visits to see our little one in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I was told to pump between visits and bring the milk down to my son every three hours. The hardest part about this was leaving our little one after having held him for such short amounts of time. We would often hear him crying as we left the room and upon entering the unit, his cries were the loudest.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hope that someone is comforting your newborn when you’re not in the room. As a new parent, you’re often frustrated by these cries, but my husband and I were frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t bring our little one home, hold him all the time, and make him better. I knew that when I was holding him, he felt safe, but for him to get better, he needed to be in the incubator. This was so hard for me at first because I didn’t want him to feel alone, I couldn’t stand the idea of him crying and me not being there to hold him.

The true power of a hug

It was on the second night that my feelings changed. That night, when we came down to feed our little one, his cries were not the first sound we heard when we got closer to the NICU. Instead, he was dressed in real baby clothes, something we had not been given the chance to do. He had been bathed and was being held by a nurse who was singing to him and also getting him to eat! For the first time since the first few hours of his life, our son was happy, comfortable and calm.

This nurse didn’t see our son as a series of tests, fluctuating blood sugar levels, or a number on a chart. This nurse saw our son as a scared little baby who needed to be comforted the way we all do when we are sick or scared. She saw him as a little baby who needed to be bathed, wrapped in warm clothes, and held. The power of a hug is not unlike the comfort of a dry diaper. Babies need to know they are going to be changed, held, cared for, and kept safe. From this moment on, everything began to change. Each time we came down to see our son, he was getting better. The mixture of breast milk, formula, medical attention, and human contact was making him better.

Over the next few days, we saw a positive shift. Our son was taken out of the incubator, he was taken off of his sugar drip, and he was calm. The crying had stopped because he was finally comfortable. While I am aware of the obvious benefits of the medical attention he was given during his time in the NICU, the positive changes were always closely linked to human contact—the power of a hug, a soft song, or eye contact. Hugging NICU babies is so important to their well-being which is why Huggies is dedicated to getting all babies the hugs they need. They have created The No Baby Unhugged initiative to help set up Baby Hugging programs in hospitals across Canada.

The nurse who brought about the initial changes in my son’s health knew that babies need to be held throughout the day and comforted through the night. This nurse was with our son until he was discharged so she connected with him like he was a part of her family. She knew our little one and she took the time to hold and hug him often. She also took the time to swaddle him tightly so he felt safe when she couldn’t hold him.

As a new parent, there are so many challenges and fears we face. The added pressures of an illness make things even more challenging. When we had to leave our son in the intensive care unit, we knew it was best for him, but letting go and leaving him on the day of his birth is one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience. All I wanted was to hold my baby, comfort him when he’s crying, and make everything ok. When this isn’t an option, you can only hope that he is being held and cared for when you can’t be the one to do it.

Our experience was a positive one, and we were able to witness the power of human touch first hand. I truly believe that the nurses who held, rocked and comforted our son brought about his speedy recovery and I am so happy to have been given an opportunity to thank all of them.

Top image credit: Calluna Studios

The power of touch goes far beyond making babies feel good. Hugging and cuddling are a vital part of healthy development and doctors are placing more importance on hugging than ever before. Thanks to the Huggies® #NoBabyUnhugged program that helps set up baby hugging programs in hospitals, more babies will get the hugs they need. 

See how little hugs are making a big difference and learn more about how you can show your support and become a No Baby Unhugged mom to get free Huggies® Diapers for your newborn.

Vanessa Falsetti is freelance writer (contributor for Parent Life Network) a lifestyle blogger and teacher. She lives with her husband, their one-year-old son and their cheeky canine companion Charlie in Toronto. Follow her as she explores simple and creative living on her blog: Josephine: A Creative Life .