5 Things Your NICU Baby Wants You to Know
baby chick, NICU, occupational therapist, OT

By Aimee Ketchum

Pediatric Occupational Therapist

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Ketchum is a pediatric occupational therapist practicing in the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric out-patient at Central Pennsylvania Rehab Services (CPRS) at the Heart of Lancaster Hospital. Also certified in newborn massage and instructing yoga to children with special needs, Ketchum is the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company. Through Aimee’s Babies, Ketchum has published 3 DVDs and 9 apps which have been featured on the Rachael Ray Show and Iphone Essentials Magazine. Ketchum is one of the five finalists in the National Word Gap Challenge through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She will compete against 4 other large organizations and Universities in March 2017 in the finals of the Word Gap Challenge.

Ketchum has been working in pediatrics for 18 years and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Philadelphia University. Ketchum lives in Lititz, PA with her husband and two daughters and enjoys running marathons and half-marathons and directing elementary school musicals in her spare time.


Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a scary, emotional experience! As an occupational therapist in the NICU, I interviewed some babies and this is what they would like mommy and daddy to know.

NICU, baby chick, occupational therapist, OT
Photo credit to Amelia Giangiulio

1. I feel your energy as soon as you approach me.

As you come to the isolette or crib, think about the energy that you carry. Babies are very perceptive. Are you stressed, anxious, nervous, or hurried? Your baby will sense this. Take a deep breath before you approach your baby so you can be calm and serene as you come into their world. Talk in low voices, use gentle touch, and reassure your baby that you are calm and ready to care for them.


2. I cannot process too much information at once.

Babies are working very hard to take in all the information from their world. They need to process what they see, hear, feel, and taste all at once, and it is easier for them if they only need to process these senses one at a time. If your baby is focusing on your face or bright lights are on and they are visually stimulated, limit noise and movement and touch. If you are rocking or stroking baby, limit visual stimulation and if you are talking to the baby and they seem to be focusing on your voice, limit touch, movement and visual stimulation.

3. I can smell you coming.

Babies sense of smell is very well-developed at birth, and they are calmed by mommy’s scent. Consider leaving an article of clothing that you just wore with your baby when you leave. You could also put a small burp cloth against your skin, then leave it with your baby when you are not there to keep your baby calm.

NICU, baby chick, occupational therapist, OT
Photo credit to Amelia Giangiulio

4. I need skin to skin touch.

Kangaroo care (putting baby down mommy or daddy’s shirt) is great for baby’s development and for bonding with the baby. This also helps to regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, respirations, and brain development. You can also do baby massage for skin on skin contact. The developmental benefits of skin on skin contact are immeasurable!


5. I feel calm when I hear familiar sounds.

Babies do hear in utero and by recreating the sounds of utero, babies can be soothed. Mom’s voice is usually very calming for baby. Sing to your baby, read a book, and just talk to your baby. Studies show that babies demonstrate familiarity to mom’s voice just one day after birth. Babies are also calmed by white noise or ocean sounds, recreating the swishing sound of the amniotic fluid. Babies also like the sound of the heartbeat and many baby sound machines play a heartbeat sound.

It can be very difficult to have a baby in the NICU, but remember, they are getting the care they need and you can take advantage of the knowledge of the nurses, therapists, and neonatologists to give you lots of information before you bring your precious baby home.

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