Having a baby in the NICU is a confusing, terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, emotional rollercoaster.
The majority of parents don’t expect to be sent to the NICU when their babies are born, and typically they went through a traumatic birth to get there. Many babies in the NICU are premature, though not all.
Most likely, a first time NICU parent will feel lost and confused as they are admitted and begin to try to navigate the medical jargon and understand what all the tubes and wires attached to their babies mean. Heck, even a parent that has already been in the NICU before would most likely feel overwhelmed, because each baby is different and each circumstance unique.
While there is no secret to making a stay in the NICU pleasant or enjoyable, here is a list of tips from past and present NICU parents to make your baby’s stay at least more survivable.
Here are some of my tips for NICU parents:
Take it one day, one hour at a time.
Things can change in the blink of an eye. Try to focus on the here and now, more than the future. Don’t worry about what may happen, celebrate what is happening.
Realize that your story is different than anyone else, and don’t compare your progress to anyone else’s.
Your journey will not be the same as anyone else’s. Some babies will only be in the NICU for a week, while others can be in for over 100 days. Each baby is unique and goes through their own trials and tribulations.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with other parents in the NICU. Since everyone experiences so many different things, you will probably find several different parents that can relate to specific aspects of your struggles.
You won’t be able to sleep. You’ll worry about your baby. You”ll get up every 3 hours to pump. I understand. Sleep when you can, and take naps when you need them. Being in the NICU is exhausting!
Don’t ignore your emotions, feel them, work through them, and get help when you need it!
Everything you are feeling is totally normal! You’ll be mad, sad, happy, confused, scared, and everything in between. You will go though the stages of grief. You will feel a rush of a million emotions, and it is so important to embrace them all, rather than trying to shove them deep down and lock them away, because it will only do more harm than good. If you can’t handle your emotions, find help! I went and saw a counselor during my son’s stay in the NICU, and it helped me a lot. I also went to weekly support group meetings, which were invaluable!
Be as involved as you can be, or as involved as you want to be.
Some days, I wanted to be involved in every little detail of what went on, and some days, I just wanted to sit there and stare at my baby in his bed, and do kangaroo care when the time came. I needed to be at the hospital every day for my peace of mind, but my husband could only go a few times a week or he would get overwhelmed.
Listen to your body and your mind and do what is best for you!
Call to check in whenever you want, 3pm or 3am.
Can’t make it to the NICU? Call the nurses and check in on your little nugget! Can’t sleep? Call up the NICU and see how your peanut is doing! There are nurses in the NICU 24/7 and you have every right to call them up to check on your bundle of joy.
In fact, they encourage you to give them a call! The night nurses get lonely sometimes an I’m sure they would appreciate chatting with you!
Bring things from home to make your pod more homey and less hospitaly.
Now, you can’t put things in your baby’s bed, and you should check with your nurses/doctor first, but usually you can bring up pictures, blankets, and stuffed animals to decorate your baby’s NICU space with.
I left a picture collage at my baby’s bedside, as well as some stuffed animals and my own receiving blankets from home. There’s just something about using your own bedding in your baby’s bed that makes it a little less cold and sterile, and a little more homey.
Find a good support system, whether it’s a friend, family, a local support group, or even seeing a counselor.
I talked with my family some about what was going on with my son, but they didn’t really understand. Also, I didn’t want to “burden” my friends with my pain and fears, and I only posted the positive things on social media.
The hospital’s local support group was a game changer for me. The group was made up of other NICU parents, past and present, that came together once a week just to get things off our chests. I cried in that room. I laughed in that room. I felt nothing but love and understanding, and I finally felt like I had found “my people”. They understood me on a level that nobody else ever would, or should! We were bound like family in our experiences, and it was such an emotional weight lifted from my chest to find my tribe.
My husband and I also went to see a counselor during our stay in the NICU, to gain coping methods and to make sure that our marriage was still solid. We never had any concerns about our marriage, but we both knew that an event like this could tear us apart i we weren’t careful, especially because we were handling it in such different ways.
Here are some more tips from other NICU parents:
Find something to celebrate every day.
If you are a person who thrives on routine, find a good routine for your family that can balance trips to the NICU with time at home, time with your spouse, or time with other kids.
The NICU is full of things you cannot control, almost everything it seems like. I learned early on that I had to focus on the things I could control. I put my mental energy into those things and that was a big mental turning point for me.
Celebrate every small victory and mini milestone.
Take lots of pictures.
Find a NICU parent support group at the hospital, church or connect with one on Facebook. Talking with other parents who have walked the road you are walking is invaluable.
Be honest with your spouse, partner, doctor or best friend about your anxiety level and thoughts. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to see a counselor or take medicines that can help you through your NICU journey.
Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask away. The NICU nurses and doctors want you to.
Get involved! It made me feel more in control. They should have also put me on the payroll!
I also connected with his nurses. So when I look back it felt more like my friends were helping me take care of my baby than nurses. Building relationships to last a life time was truly a blessing.
Would you like to add to the list?
What helped you make your NICU stay just a little bit easier?
What tips do you wish you had known while your baby was stuck in the hospital?