Optimal Position for Preemies Must Provide Feeling of Containment

By Elizabeth on January 25th 2012
Preemie pushing against Incubator


I remember when I was still involved in print advertising with our graphic designer in Miami.  The copywriter tried to come up with some slogan for our full page ad. I remember coming up with, "Sleepy Wrap, the best place after the womb".

We all know that babies crave the familiar containment and pressure of the womb.  Upright on mama's chest in a baby wrap certainly mimics that womblike environment.  While in utero, babies push their little elbows, knees, feet, and shoulders against the walls of the womb; this helps the baby's muscles develop and get stronger.  As baby gets bigger and there is less room and he has more opportunities to flex his body, making muscles even stronger. When babies are born, they are in flexion, and almost impossible to straighten out.

A preemie who is born before he had a chance to develop good muscle tone may not be able to hold his body together.  He may lay flat on his back like a little star.   In the NICU they often create woolen or fleece nests for the babies, to contain their little bodies and help them stay in a flexed position.  Again, mimicking the womb.

Did you know that preemies not only crave containment but they actively seek it out?  When reading Ashley Montague's book on touch, I remember one story in particular where the preemie in the incubator would scoot, with a series of tiny movements to the corner of the incubator.  When the nurse in the NICU would see him scrunched up on one side, she would move him back to the center of the incubator so he wouldn't lose any heat from his body touching the wall. And then he would scoot again. Preemies actually feel safer against a boundary.

Practicing Kangaroo Care, and wrapping your flexed preemie skin to skin offers optimal positioning, crucial health benefits, and it connects the two of you.  Your baby is flexed, enveloped, protected and safe.  Surely it is the"best place after the womb".

When it's time for your baby to go back into the incubator, remember that keeping your baby in the flexed position-

  • May enable your baby to breathe more easily

  • May help regulate heart beat

  • Promotes more uninterrupted sleeping because of improved breathing and overall improved comfort

  • Reduces and helps alleviate the symptoms associated with gastric reflux

  • Filters extrasensory input by decreasing your baby's perception of environmental events

  • Prevents your baby from acting out his startle reflex- which uses up his energy/calories

  • Cuts and buffers some of the sounds around him

  • Helps your baby develop normal posture and movement

  • Provides your baby a feeling of security


Leading Neonatal Centers worldwide understand and recognize a preemie's need for flexion and to be safe, protected and enclosed.  Kangaroo Care is optimal, but making a nest for your baby in his incubator at the NICU is a way to ensure that his or her body stays in the flexed position.  You'll be doing the best that you can to provide that safe and secure feeling for your baby.