What is developmental care?
Developmental care means letting the baby’s behavior guide his or her contact with other people.
Most healthy term and late preterm infants enjoy being spoken to, sung to, held, rocked, etc.
These actions also help the baby develop. However, some premature or sick babies may findthese same actions stressful.
How does developmental care work?
Your health care team will help you learn when your baby wants to interact and when he or she is stressed. Every baby is different, but you may see some of these behaviors:
Baby wants to interact:
• Relaxed arms, legs and facial expressions
• Sucking on fingers or hands
• Awake and quiet
• Bright and shiny eyes
• Focused attention (looking)
• Sucking movements
• Fingers curled
• Turning toward sound
Baby feels stressed:
• Change in breathing rate
• Change in heart rate
• Change in color (pale, bluish)
• Frowning or grimacing
• Crying and fussing
• Spreading fingers out wide (splaying)
Over time, you’ll learn which behaviors your baby uses to communicate.
What’s the best way to interact with my baby?
Use your baby’s behavior to find out which actions he or she likes and dislikes. You may have to try several different things.
Here are some suggestions:
• Discover the type of touch that soothes and comforts your baby. Try resting your hand on the baby instead of patting or stroking
• For babies that aren’t ready to be held, try supporting the baby in the crib or isolette. Place your hand on the baby’s head, rump, feet, or stomach. Be sure to just support the baby in place; do not move your hand
• Let your baby grasp your finger
• Speak or read to your baby in a low, quiet voice for short periods of time (often 5 to 10 minutes)
• If possible, have your baby look at your face
• Remember that some babies get stressed if there is too much going on. Try doing just one thing at time, such as speaking, rocking, or touching
What do I do if my baby seems stressed?
Stressed babies need rest, usually in a quiet, dimly-lit place.
What will happen next?
As your baby grows and develops, his or her behavior will change. Some actions will become less stressful. Work with your healthcare team to figure out what’s best for your baby.
Some babies in the NICU may
benefit from skin-to-skin contact.
When the baby is snuggled into
the parent’s chest, the practice is
called kangaroo care. Both mothers
and fathers can participate in
If your baby is ready to be held,
kangaroo care can result in:
• More stable heart rate and
• More rapid weight gain
• Less crying
• Improved bonding between
parent and child
Talk with your health care team
about whether kangaroo care is
right for your baby.