Understanding Premature Growth and Development

Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) have different needs than full-term babies. This is why the NICU staff encourages parents to get to know their baby and the environment they temporarily call home.

Isolette beds keep infants warm until they can hold their temperature on their own. These isolettes also keep the noise levels down so babies can rest and grow. Other developmental devices used in the NICU include the Z-Flo™, which is used for developmental positioning to keep the baby flexed and tucked just like they would have been in the womb.

Stress Signals/Behaviors
NICU infants often show signs of stress. It is important that parents learn to identify these stress signals/behaviors, which include:

  • Breathing fast or a pause in breathing
  • Color changes
  • Coughing, sneezing, yawning, sighing
  • Finger splays (high-five sign), grimacing and sticking tongue out
  • Floppy arms or legs
  • Gagging, gasping, spitting up
  • Glassy-eyed, strained alertness
  • Hand on face and fisting
  • Irritability, crying
  • Panicked or worried alertness
  • Staring
  • Stiff or sticking out legs, arms and/or trunk
  • Straining
  • Tremors and twitching
  • Unorganized behavior with activity (i.e., changing diaper, taking temperature)

NICU infants have the capacity to sooth themselves. The benefits of self-soothing are wonderful as it helps slow breathing, decreases oxygen requirements, improves digestion and helps promote optimal brain growth.

Some indicators of self-soothing include:

  • Attentive gaze
  • Crossing feet
  • Grasping
  • Hands to mouth
  • Holding finger

Help Your NICU Infant Grow and Develop in the NICU
Providing appropriate care in each stage of development helps provide the best possible outcome for short- and long-term growth in NICU infants. Parents can help their babies by:

  • Being gentle and providing firm containment
  • Finger holding
  • Kangaroo Care
  • Positioning with Z-Flo™, support of rolls, swaddle and position hands near face
  • Reducing lighting
  • Speaking softly and quietly; minimizing any extra noise

After Discharge
Infants less than 32 weeks must follow up at Rady Children's Hospital. The first visit usually takes place at 6 months corrected gestational age. All systems are evaluated and referrals are made if needed.

For More Information About the NICU Navigator Program
To learn more or to request support from a NICU Navigator, please call 858-939-4802.