A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a nursery within a hospital that specializes in caring for sick and preterm newborns. Most babies who spend the longest times in the NICU are born too early and for most families, like mine, this will be a sudden and unexpected experience. The days, weeks, and months to follow are emotionally draining. Families must endure waves of emotional highs and lows as their newborn goes through “good days” and “bad days”. Coping with these triumphs and setbacks can be difficult, but the NICU journey is an opportunity for immense bonding with your newborn. Here, I will share some tips to hopefully help someone get through this time.
- The most important thing for you, as a mother, is to take care of yourself; physically and mentally. You cannot help your baby if you are not well.
- Follow your provider’s orders for after-delivery care, especially if you had a cesarean. Do not drive, climb stairs, or carry heavy bags. You risk re-opening the incision.
- Set a routine and stick to it. Include your meals, adequate time for sleep, and general hygiene in your schedule. This will help you rebuild your strength and maintain your physical and mental health. Also, set reminders to take your medications, if any.
- Talk to someone about your emotions. A professional can help you understand your feelings (and once I was comfortable enough to talk with the nurses and social workers, I learned that most families of NICU babies deal with the same feelings of shock, helplessness, anger, guilt, and fear that I was experiencing). Talk to other families in the NICU, or join online forums or support groups to share stories. These “strangers” can be most comforting to you.
- While you remain a patient in the hospital, you may want to request a private room. You may find it difficult to be around mothers with healthy newborns.
- Get to know the staff and your baby’s caretakers, and make an effort to develop a rapport with them. There will be nurses, doctors, specialists, surgeons, social workers, lactation consultants, and more. Ask questions about the equipment, your baby’s condition, and procedures. These people are there to help. Become informed.
- You are a crucial member in the team of providers for you baby’s care. Be involved. You will have almost 24-hour access to the nursery. You can also call at any time you desire. Once your baby is stable enough, you will be able to hold, bathe, feed, change, and dress him. You can coordinate these tasks with your baby’s nurse. Communicate your schedule to them, however, participation will all be based on your baby’s response and tolerance at the time, so be prepared for plans to change. I am a very reserved person, so I initially took a back-seat approach here. I felt uncomfortable in the beginning…like a stranger or just a visitor. I was not sure of what was expected of me or what was allowed of me. I was nervous to even put a blanket or cap back on my daughter if she wiggled out of it. Once I developed that rapport with the nurses, I felt more comfortable and was able to appropriately participate in her care.
- Keep a calendar of dates and/or a journal. Record information on your baby’s health, progress, and treatments, special moments/events, and difficult times. In the future, you will want to remember all of the moments during this special time. I carried a notebook with me everywhere during the 44 days my daughter was in the NICU. No matter where I was, when I received information, I recorded it. My husband was not always with me, so rather than letting my stressed mind fail me, I could turn to my notebook and give him a complete run-down on our daughter’s day. A journal can also be a place for you to express your feelings to relieve stress and anxiety.
- Take advantage of Kangaroo Care (skin-to-skin contact). This method of contact has been proven beneficial to parents and newborns. It has an overwhelming calming effect and is the ultimate bonding experience between the mother/father and baby. It can help alleviate symptoms of mood disorders. The newborn’s growth rate can increase, overall health has been seen to improve, and the baby is able to regulate their heart rate, breathing, and maintain a proper body temperature.
- It is OK to not be at your baby’s crib-side 24-hours a day (as long as your schedule is communicated to the nurse). I struggled with this. Even when my daughter was in stable condition, I did not want to leave her side (I felt like I was abandoning her). I wanted to spend every waking minute with her. However, I did have another child at home that needed me as well. At our hospital, siblings (children) were allowed to visit once per week, between certain hours, so on that day every week, my husband and I gave our time and attention to our older daughter. We visited the baby as a family, and spent the rest of the day doing something special with her.
- Know that only your baby can determine when he will be going home. The doctors and nurses cannot give you a date or time. More than likely, you will be told only hours before discharge. Rather than asking the doctor, “When can he come home?”, ask, “What are the tasks he needs to achieve before he can come home?” Expect your baby to be in the hospital until his actual due date, at least. My daughter was born 9 weeks early, so we planned on her being in the hospital for 9 weeks.
Our NICU journey was one of the most trying times in our lives. My daughter and this experience has changed my life forever. Through this journey, miracles were witnessed, faith was restored, and doors were opened. Her fight has been such an inspiration to me. Due to complications with pre-eclampsia, my daughter was born at 31 weeks gestation. She weighed 3 pounds, 12.8 ounces, and was 17.5 inches in length. We were able to bring her home on April 15, 2009, when she was 44 days old. She is now a beautiful, healthy, 2 1/2 year-old, with the same strong will she was born with. We are so very blessed.
About the Blogger:
Hi! My name is Tanya. I am a stay at home mom and a full time nursing student from South Jersey. I am married and have been blessed with 2 beautiful and healthy little girls, aged 2 years and 7 years. I love gardening, baking, crafting, and a good belly laugh!