Whether your baby is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for three days or three months, it’s a scary and overwhelming place. Life seems to stop outside of your hospital room and the strange world of beeping machines, bubbling oxygen and ringing alarms is likely not how you envisioned the early days. NICU parents often experience conflicting emotions from guilt to gratitude and to joy and terror. If your journey is just beginning in the NICU, here are eight ways to make your time there a little bit easier:
- Ask lots of questions: If you feel confused, worried or frustrated—speak up. Ask every question that comes to mind and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Write down your concerns in a notebook so you’re ready for one-on-one time with doctors, nurses and specialists. While you may feel like you should sit back and let the professionals do their job, you are the professional and advocate when it comes to your child.
- Appoint a contact person: Ask a close friend or family member to deal with the endless calls and texts from well-meaning loved ones. Your contact person can keep everyone updated so you can focus your energy on being present and with your baby.
- Get to know the NICU staff: Spend time building relationships with your NICU team. They will be your family’s caregivers, friends and biggest cheerleaders. Make sure they remember you and your baby so you can feel less anxious about the care and attention you are receiving.
- Take advantage of the support: As difficult as it is to spend time in the NICU, it is a chance to learn from highly-trained professionals. Take advantage of the opportunity to absorb baby care tips and advice you’ll use well after your return home.
- Take breaks: It’s your natural instinct to want to stay by your baby’s side as much as possible, but you need to stay healthy for them. Go for walks, eat outside the hospital walls, trade off shifts with your partner and even try to get in a sleep and shower at home if home is nearby. Take time to recover from labour and delivery, especially if you had a C-section. If anything happens while you’re gone, the care team will be able to connect with you.
- Ask for and accept help: If friends and family ask to help, let them! Just be specific about what you need. Ask for rides to the hospital, cafeteria gift cards, healthy snacks or care for other children at home. You need the support and your loved ones want to help.
- Keep track: While it may not feel like it yet, you’re going to want to remember this time. Take lots of pictures and videos, write down milestones and savour tiny hand and footprints. One day you will be in awe of how far you and your baby have come and how hard everyone fought to come home.
- Connect with other parents: While the NICU is a loud and busy place, it can also be very lonely. Reach out to other parents in common rooms, at NICU events or through support groups. They likely understand what you are going through, can offer some helpful advice or answer your questions. Also, meeting NICU graduates can be the inspiring boost you need to get through a hard day.
Having a premature or sick baby in the NICU is exhausting, heat-wrenching and scary. Take things one day at a time, celebrate each milestone and be willing to accept help. Connect with VHA Home HealthCare so to see if you qualify for newborn assistance when you leave the hospital.