Every new parent looks forward to the arrival of a new baby with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. What about if you have twins? What if they arrive early? Danielle shares her experience of babywearing premature twins!

We prepare what we’re going to need for the new addition to the family. We think about the kind of parent we want to be and for many of us this includes finding out about the importance of early bonding and attachment. We have images of the days spent on the sofa, skin to skin, breastfeeding and bonding with our precious little bundle. We may have considered using a sling to keep our little one close while going about our daily life.

So what happens if things don’t quite go to plan?

What if baby makes an early appearance or is sick when they arrive and have to be admitted to the neonatal unit?

Suddenly our best laid plans of blissful days of early bonding are shattered, replaced with incubators, wires, CPAP machines, UV lights, bleeping monitors and the intense worry and stress that goes with a neonatal admission. Suddenly you’re looking at the most precious thing imaginable through a plastic box, covered in leads and sensors, often unable to hold them.

Both of my pregnancies ended with admissions to the neonatal unit. My first child was growth restricted in utero and was born at 37 weeks, weighing only 4lbs 9oz. He was initially unwell and quickly became very jaundiced, meaning he was admitted to ICU, put in an incubator, under 5 UV lights, with talk to exchange transfusions. The risk of brain damage of such high levels of jaundice trumps everything else, so we weren’t allowed to hold or breastfeed him until his bilirubin levels dropped. It was incredibly stressful. My plans for early bonding were seemingly scuppered. There then followed a raft of tests that kept us in over Christmas and New Year. Our breastfeeding relationship was affected and we had to introduce formula.

So when we were finally discharged it seemed even more important that we make up for lost time. We organised for a babywearing consultation and were shown how to use a stretchy wrap. As soon as I felt his tiny body nestled against mine in the wrap, held safe and close, I knew we’d be OK. He went everywhere in a sling and had most of his naps there too. We developed a very close bond and my little boy has blossomed into a bright, independent and confident toddler. My love of babywearing also bloomed and I trained as first a peer supporter and then as a consultant.

babywearing premature babies, older children need love too
babywearing premature babies

Fast forward nearly two years and I was pregnant again, this time with twins! So when my waters broke at 34 weeks, history seemed to be repeating itself. The twins arrived, small, but safe and were admitted to the neonatal unit. Again here I was looking at precious bundles in plastic boxes, two tiny premature babies. This time though, I was prepared. I had my stretchy wrap with me and had the twins skin to skin at every given opportunity, and tandem carried them around the unit, to the delight of the staff. The twins did better than expected and were given an early discharge.

skin to skin with twin premature babies

Families who experience a stay in neonatal often find themselves feeling powerless and isolated, unable to hold their baby, or only able to hold them for short periods of time, due to medical needs. People are increasingly aware of the importance of early bonding, which can add additional stress, as we fear our children are missing out on important attachment opportunities. We’re separate more than we are together.

While it is far from ideal for us not to be able to hold our children in those early days, all is not lost. Using a sling or kangaroo care top, or even lying reclined with your little one down your top, in skin to skin contact, when the opportunity presents itself can make a massive difference both to the parent and the baby.

Once you leave the hospital and get home, using a sling can really help. Babies who have been in neonatal units are notoriously poor sleepers. They have become accustomed to an environment of bleeps and alarms, and constant low light. Naps taken in a sling will give the baby the closeness they need, while allowing the parent to carry on with life. Close contact will also have a positive impact on breastfeeding, again something that is notoriously difficult with a preterm baby.

premature babywearing twins

Woven wraps work particularly well with small babies, as they are flexible enough to mould around the body of a newborn and provide the support they need. They are a fantastic investment, as the same sling will be usable from newborn to the end of your carrying days.

Slings and the knowledge of how to use them safely have meant that I have the freedom to get off the sofa with babies who need close contact pretty much constantly. I can have my hands free to give my older boy the mummy time he needs while keeping my little ones close and safe. Here you can see I have both my babies wrapped up safely, one on the front and one on the back, well supported and breathing easily. I had a consult to help me gain confidence with this; and I am already feeling liberated!

babywearing premature babies with a woven wrap

So while things may not have been as imagined in the beginning, there is still lots that can be done. Close contact, be it in a sling or not, whenever you can, either in hospital or when you get home, will work wonders for everyone concerned, and will go long way to mitigate the impact of the early difficulties.

If you do want to learn to use a sling with a premature or sick baby, please contact your local sling library or carrying consultant for advice.

Editor: older children may find it hard to adapt to a new arrival and need reassurance that their place in your heart and arms is secure. When your body has recovered and you feel strong enough, your older child may love the sensation of being carried in a sling and find it very therapeutic!