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Parents learn to soothe critically ill babies through touch

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ATLANTA -

It's one of the sweetest, most powerful moments of parenthood: holding your baby in your arms for the first time. That's something parents of critically ill babies often can't do because of all the machines and monitors. But at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, they're learning a new way to connect with their babies through touch.
     
Ten-week-old Chloe Walker has woken every morning of her life in the dark, quiet of the neonatal intensive care unit of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Chloe was born by emergency C-section, her left lung and liver dangerously fused.

"I didn't hold her for the first time until like two weeks after she was born," said her mother, Jarilyn Walker.

Jarilyn ached for Chloe.

"You never think, ‘Oh, I'm not going to hold my baby,' or 'I'm not going to be able to hear my baby cry,'" she said.

Child life specialist Robin Kaiser helps NICU parents like Jarilyn reach beyond all the monitors and wires and connect with their babies.

"A lot of times babies, they just need to learn that not all touch is bad," Kaiser said.

Carrying 3-month-old Ellie through the NICU, Robin will never forget the first mom she taught infant massage, she had a baby boy.
     
"So, I said, ‘What would like to do with him today?' and she said, ‘I don't know how to do anything with him,'" said Kaiser. "Working with her was really really powerful, because just seeing those small steps of her beginning to understand her own child, and really embrace being a mom, being a mother."

Ellie, who's had four surgeries and countless heel sticks, calmed as her mom Brittany rubbed her little toes. It was clear that she liked it. So did Chloe.

"And like, her toes will open up, and when I massage her hands, her hands will open up," said Jarilyn Walker.

Chloe now knows her mom's touch and voice and Jarilyn knows how to make her baby happy.

"She has this huge smile.  All you see is gums.  Wait till she gets teeth, all you'll see is teeth," said Walker.

Robin says you can do this with your baby at home. She says cue your baby - they go slowly.

Start by just placing your hands on the baby's leg or arms and keeping them still. Then use firm, but gentle pressure to massage the baby. No tickling  or light touch because she says babies don't like that.

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