7 Reasons Your Preemie Wants You to Jump In and Change Their Diaper

October 3, 2020

I'm katie, OTD, OTR/L, NTMTC, CNT & founder of blooming littles

Guess who has the greatest influence on a baby's NICU stay? It's YOU! Let's get you the tools, info, and resources needed to create positive NICU experiences, one interaction at a time.

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Nervous to take the leap and start changing your preemie’s diaper? Worried because you think their nurse does it better? I’m here to share 7 reasons why your NICU baby wants you (instead of their nurse) to jump in and change their diaper. If you are at your baby’s bedside during their care times, you can promote positive developmental outcomes by being involved in their care. 

As a neonatal therapist, I love to educate and encourage NICU parents to interact and bond with their babies while they are receiving medical care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). 


Because you are an important part of your baby’s development, and I want you to feel fully equipped to care for your baby. 

Despite lines, tubes and medical equipment, and even though there is an amazing nurse who helps provide the medical aspects of your little one’s care, you can take charge and change your baby’s diaper.

It may be really hard to take the first step…to put your hands in your baby’s incubator and touch them, take their temperature, or change their diaper.

If you’re looking for some tips, you may also find this post helpful and encouraging.

I hope there is a nurse or neonatal therapist who has helped you learn to interact with your baby or encouraged you in changing their diaper. 

If you have already taken that leap, congratulations! I am so proud of you!

If you are new to the NICU, afraid, or just haven’t felt comfortable taking that step, I hope you leave this page feeling encouraged and more confident.

However you feel is okay! 

Let me tell you why it’s important for YOU to take charge and start changing your baby’s diaper (even while they are little and in the isolette)!


Depending on how old your baby is, your opportunities for touching and interacting with your baby may be limited (especially if you have a micropreemie). NICU’s typically want to limit touch interactions to certain times surrounding a baby’s assessment or care times. That is called “clustering care”.

A diaper change happens at every assessment and lets you put your hands on their sweet skin and do a “parenting” task. You may be looking for any way you can touch and be involved with your baby. Learning how to change their diaper from the beginning (don’t worry, you don’t have to be perfect!) is a great way to interact with your baby in an appropriate way.


When you open the portholes of that isolette and touch your little one’s head or body in preparation for a diaper change, they know it’s you. 

Your nurse can easily change your baby’s diaper, but your baby reaps massive developmental benefits if their mom and dad do care at the bedside.

Did you know that your baby could hear you, smell, taste, and feel textures before they were even born into the world? All of those sensory experiences develop early on during pregnancy. You have unknowingly bonded with your baby long before they entered the world.

When you open the isolette doors or walk up to your baby’s bedside to change a diaper, you may start talking to them out of habit. Well, your baby recognizes your voice. They know your smell, and they know your touch.

They have been listening to you, enjoying your scent, and experiencing the benefits of your touch. Your baby’s bedside nurse didn’t carry them in their belly or deliver them, YOU did. 


You should provide your preemie with as much positive touch and interaction as possible, even while they are sick and/or fragile.

Even when it feels scary to reach in the portholes of that isolette to touch their finger, and even when you’re scared. Your touch is SO good for the development of your baby’s brain.

It’s not just me saying that.

Research tells us over and over again that a mother’s touch is not only good for the baby, but it’s also amazing for the mama! 

Just some of the benefits of your touch are:

  • Decreased pain and stress responses
  • Improved weight gain
  • Better arousal
  • Improved oxygen rates
  • Improved breathing rates
  • Improved heart rate
  • More maternal confidence
  • Greater feeling of control for parents
  • Facilitating role shift 

Yeah, those are major benefits!

Need an idea for how to provide positive touch, or when the best times are??

Check out my detailed, must-read post on hand hugs! 

I want you to know that you play an important part in your baby’s healing in the NICU. 

With that said, if you’re not ready emotionally or mentally for that transition, that is okay! You don’t have to be ready yet. 

Your journey is your own, Mom and Dad!


Most parents aren’t thinking or preparing for the reality of changing their baby while sticking their arms through two little holes, maneuvering lines and tubes, touching their two pound baby’s legs, or putting on a diaper the size of a credit card.

And most parents or caregivers definitely don’t feel confident while doing it. 

Maybe this is your first little one, or maybe you have been changing diapers for years.

Regardless, you were probably getting prepared before the NICU rocked your world.

You had a changing station or changing mat set up, diapers and wipes stashed away, and the diaper cream ready. Instead, now things are different. 

Getting comfortable changing your premature baby’s diaper will increase your confidence in caring and interacting with your baby in a new way.

Maybe it will help you gain the confidence to try something else like:

  • get your baby out for holding
  • try skin-to-skin care
  • take their temperature, or
  • repositioning them in their isolette. 

The only way to get more confident is to start.


You can take your time with a diaper change, stopping and starting as your baby communicates with you, offering positive touch and hand hugs.

Responding to your baby in a way that will build their coping skills.

Oftentimes, your NICU nurse may have 2 to 4 other babies who they are trying to keep on a schedule, feed, and complete assessments on. 

They may be rushed, which may leave your little one wiggling, waving their arms and legs frantically, or crying during a diaper change.

Our goal is to make most interactions with your baby POSITIVE. 

What better person to watch and respond to your baby’s cues during a diaper change than YOU?!?


This one is tough, because I have heard countless parents say things like…

“I don’t feel like she knows me.”

If you feel that way, that is completely valid, and I hear you. You’re in an unbelievably difficult situation, learning to interact with your baby in a new way.

But trust me, your baby knows you. 

Here’s the thing…I want you to be whomever you want to be for your baby. Do you want to step up front and center and know your baby best? You can!

NICU parents can do it—you can drive your baby’s care!

Mothers have an instinct about their babies. Trust your gut and collaborate with the NICU medical team during your baby’s care time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say things like:

  • Her belly looks bigger today than yesterday.
  • The plastic surgeon said he wanted to keep the bandage on this way so it stays dry.
  • She doesn’t like when you take her temperature.
  • His incision didn’t look like that yesterday.
  • It seems like she’s breathing harder today.

Goodness, I am incredibly grateful when I hear parents tell me things like that! You are your baby’s constant caregiver. We need to know what you are noticing—speak up.

Your sweet baby will be so thankful you know them best!


When I walk into a baby’s room to meet mom and baby for the first time, one of the first things I say after introducing myself is, “Tell me about Charlotte,” or “What is Greyson like?”. 

More often than not, I’m met with a blank stare. 

Parents don’t know what to say when I ask, because no one has ever asked them about their baby’s personality or who they are.

It isn’t something parents with babies in the NICU feel they “get” to think about. 

Your mind may be consumed with thoughts and fears related to the medical care of your baby—whether they dropped their heart rate, took their whole bottle, gained weight, or are requiring more oxygen.

Less time and energy is spent exploring your baby’s personality, their likes and dislikes, or how they communicate with you. 

Spend time thinking and observing your baby’s behaviors and facial expressions (cues) so you know when and how to respond when you’re doing a diaper change. 

Take that time to learn about your baby. They have a lot to tell you.

The nurse may know how to do it and may respond to your baby’s cues, BUT, you can be the most attentive to the subtle signs and cues your baby gives you as you reach in their isolette and change their diaper.

I hope reading those reasons for why your baby wants you to be the one to change their diaper encourages you, and tells you how important you are to your baby while they’re in the NICU.

To help you shift your mindset as you grow into how AMAZING you are, try saying some of these things aloud.

  • “My baby loves when I provide him/her with positive touch.”
  • “I am capable of changing my baby’s diaper at the next assessment time.”
  • “I know how to read my baby’s cues during a diaper change and respond appropriately.”
  • “I feel like I really know my baby.”

If you feel like you aren’t able to verbalize those statements confidently to yourself, or you don’t know how to do some of the things talked about like “hand hugs”, please read some of the other relevant posts I have linked or reach out to me personally.

Wherever you are on your NICU journey, it is a continual learning and growing experience. 

Most of all, tell me how it goes! 

What helps you feel most confident and involved in your baby’s care?

You’re doing it!

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