Your baby's time in hospital, FAQs

We answer some of your questions about your premature baby's time in the hospital and neonatal unit.

My baby looks so different from how I'd expected. Will that change?

Yes. Premature babies look a little different from term babies, as their bodies have not fully developed.

Your baby's skin may be very red and translucent, and the eyes, ears and genitals may not yet be fully matured. She may also have hairs on her skin that she will lose over time, and she may seem very thin. As she develops she will start to look more like a term baby. 

Read more about how your premature baby might look here

The healthcare team keeps encouraging me to help with my premature baby's care, but she seems so fragile - what if I accidentally hurt her?

Initially you might be worried about handing your baby if she is very small and ill. However, your touch and care will help with her recovery and growth and your role in hospital is a very important one. Throughout your time at the unit, the team will encourage you to play an active role in your baby's care, and will show you how to carry out tasks, such as feeding, washing and changing her nappy. As you grow accustomed to handling her, your confidence will grow and you will worry less about hurting her.

If you are worried or do not feel ready, take things at your own pace. Try to talk through how you feel with the healthcare team. They may be able to help you develop your confidence.

Read more about your role in caring for your baby here, including tips on how to bond

The healthcare team has told me I should express milk during the night, but I'm so tired - is this really necessary?

If you want to keep up a good supply of milk, you need to be expressing eight to ten times a day, including once at night. That's around every three hours during the day. The amount of milk your body produces depends on the demand, and long periods without feeding or expressing may affect your supply. Unfortunately, that does mean waking to express during the night too.

Your baby's stomach starts off around the size of a small marble so the amount of milk you get will be small. You will need a more plentiful supply when she is older though so it is useful to have extra kept in the freezer, in case you cannot feed for a while (for example, if you become ill) later on.

Read more about feeding your premature baby here

I just can't get to grips with breastfeeding - is it supposed to hurt so much?

Breastfeeding should not hurt. You may feel a moment of discomfort when your baby starts sucking, but after that it should feel comfortable. If you are in discomfort, your baby may not be latching on correctly, so do seek advice quickly.

The more comfortable you feel, the more likely it is that you'll continue feeding for a longer period, so it's worth getting advice from a breast feeding counsellor in the hospital (ask a nurse to put you in touch with one), or if no one is available in the hospital, call one of the breastfeeding helplines listed here.

I don't feel that I'm bonding with my baby - is there something wrong?

Some women feel that they bond immediately with their premature babies, but many don't. There are many reasons that you might find it harder to bond with your baby while she is in the neonatal unit - both practical and emotional.

Try not to worry too much about how you think you 'should' feel, unless you are feeling extremely low, despairing or anxious - in which case do talk to someone you trust on the healthcare team. They may be able to reassure you or offer some form of additional support.

Call our midwives

Remember: Tommy's midwives are ready to answer your questions, no matter how trivial you think they might be. 

The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.

The baby unit

Caring for your baby

  • Mother holding baby to her chest.

    Kangaroo care

    Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby is a wonderful way for you both to bond. It also provides health benefits.

  • Mother holding premature baby.

    Caring for your baby: your role

    You will play an important part in your premature baby's care, even while they are in the NICU.

  • Premature baby using feeding equipment.

    Feeding your premature baby

    Your premature baby's diet will be carefully balanced to suit their tiny digestive system while meeting the needs of their growing body.

  • Premature baby in incubator.

    Positioning your premature baby

    Positioning your premature baby correctly can make them feel secure, improve their breathing ability, strengthen their muscles and reduce the risk of cot death.

Treatment and medical support your baby may have


  1. Conde-Agudelo A, Belizán JM, Diaz-Rossello J (2011) Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low birthweight infants, Cochrane Review, Cochrane Neonatal Group, Cochrane Library, Wiley Online Library
  2. Fohe K, Dropf S, Avenarius S (2000) Skin-to-skin contact improves gas exchange in premature infant, Journal of Perinatalogy, Vol 23, p311–15
  3. Feldman R, Eidelman AI, Sirota L, Weller A (2002) Comparison of skin-to-skin and traditional care: parenting outcomes and preterm infant development, Pediatrics, Vol 110, No 1, p16–26
  4. GOSH (2010) Breastfeeding and expressing milk, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust: Information for Families
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    Last reviewed on April 1st, 2017. Next review date April 1st, 2020.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.

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