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Supporting attachment in Neonatal Units

Families who have babies in neonatal units often experience feelings of grief, loss, fear and guilt as well as anxiety about their baby’s survival and long term future.

Parents can feel helpless, excluded and powerless, and it is not surprising that research has shown mothers of preterm babies experience more severe levels of psychological distress in the neonatal period than mothers of term babies. As well as physical barriers such as the appearance of the baby, medical equipment, and incubators, these feelings can act as barriers to the attachment process.

However it is important to remember although families with babies in neonatal care may experience barriers to the attachment process during their time in neonatal care the majority will go on to form good attachment with the correct support. The love and care parents can give to their child even in neonatal units can have a vital role for their baby’s comfort and wellbeing; it can reduce the length of stay, and benefit health and wellbeing in the longer term.

NHS Health Scotland in partnership with the Children's Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) have developed the following professional briefing paper Supporting attachment in neonatal units, to give the key messages to support the early attachment process in neonatal units.