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In the NICU - Your baby


Babies, no matter how small, communicate

As you get to know your baby, you will recognise their personality. Being with your baby is your first step to getting to know them. Allow yourself time to get used to your baby and their new environment. It takes time to get to know your little baby.

Interpreting your baby’s movements and expressions

Your baby’s behaviour, including body movements and facial expressions, are their voice.

By looking at your baby’s behaviour signals you will know:

  • When they are ready to communicate with you.
  • When they want to rest.
  • How they comfort themselves.

Learning your baby’s language can take time as the machines and the beeping noises can sometimes be overwhelming. As you get more used to the NICU environment, you will start to concentrate more on your baby and what they can do. For example, do they show signs that they want to interact and socialise (‘Positive Approach’ behaviours) with you or that they need a rest (‘Time-Out’ signals)?

Interacting with your baby

  • Your baby will guide on what they like or do not like. Sometimes it is just not the right time and it is ok to say “No!”
  • Watch for your baby’s signals inviting you to interact and to see how they respond to each interaction, see ‘Understanding how your baby communicates with you’.
  • Interactions include listening, responding, touch, talking, looking, comfort care measures and care-giving activities as outlined in the next chapter.
  • Be guided by your baby and what they like and what they don’t like. Respect the signals they give you.
  • If an interaction is appropriate, it will cause your baby to seek it out and move towards it. They will enjoy it without becoming too tired or overwhelmed, i.e. they will display ‘Positive approach’ behaviours’.
  • If an interaction is inappropriate in its timing, is too much or too strong it will cause your baby to defend against it, i.e. they will display ‘Time-Out’ signals.

“Be guided by your baby and what they like and don’t like. Respect the signals your baby gives you.”

Did You Know?

The NIDCAP philosophy and approach has helped us understand the behaviour of preterm babies knowing when they need time to rest and play. This has changed the way fragile babies are cared for especially in terms of understanding their developmental needs.

The Newborn Individualised Developmental Care and Assessment Programme (NIDCAP) model of care was developed 1994 by Heideleise Als and colleagues in the USA. For more information see