There is an unspoken bond among parents with babies in the NICU. I remember walking into the NICU and making eye contact with other parents and there was always a glimmer of understanding.
They knew exactly what you were going through, and vice versa. After experiencing it first-hand, I decided to write a parents guide to surviving the NICU.
The NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. It's a special location in the hospital that focuses on preemies and newborns who are struggling.
What to bring to the NICU
Depending on how long your baby will be there, you will be there a lot! Check with your NICU team on what they allow, but most will let you bring a camera, some foods/snacks, and even your breast pump.
You will also be encouraged to bring pumped breastmilk, and scent circles that you have worn for at least 24 hours so baby has something that smells like you when you aren't there.
6 tips for NICU parents
1. Ask Questions
The first tip in the parents guid to surviving the NICU is to ask questions. One of the best ways I coped with my son being in the NICU was to ask questions. There are going to be a lot of things you don't know about, and it is so much easier to learn about it than feel out of the loop. Some of the questions I remember asking were:
- What is a normal respiration rate?
- Why is he shaking so much (when he was on the high-flow ventilator)?
- How does the high-flow ventilator work?
- Is he going to be ok?
- How does the CPAP work?
- What is the tube going into his nose? (It never occurred to me that he was on a feeding tube.)
- What is a pneumothorax?
- Why does he need a blood transfusion?
- When do you think he will get to go home? (I probably asked this one 100+ times).
- How did he do overnight?
- Have they weaned him off of the ventilator?
- When can I hold him?
- When can a preemie go home?
- Can I try breastfeeding my preemie in the nicu?
I know I asked a lot more, but I think I blocked a lot of that out of my memory. Another question that you might come across is what is is like to bring baby home from the NICU? Well, you can read all about it and a few ways to make the transition easier here.
2. Interact with baby
When the nurses/doctors give you the all clear to help with diaper changes and temperature checks, do. I wasn't a first-time parent, but I was beyond scared to do anything.
Seeing all the wires, tubes, an IVs can be daunting. Some other great ways to interact are by simply talking/singing to your baby, and bringing in scent circles.
The best thing in the world is when you get to hold your baby!
3. Focus on the Positives
This can be difficult in the beginning, because no parent ever wants to have their newborn baby in the NICU. These were some of the things I was grateful for:
- He is alive
- He was born at 37 weeks (a baby next to Luke was born at 24 weeks)
- He weighed more than what the growth scan had estimated he would weigh at birth
- The amazing doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists
- He didn't have to have a chest tube
4. Don't feel guilty
I struggled a bunch with guilt, because I hated leaving my son. What helped me was knowing that he was getting all the care possible even when I wasn't there.
Also, call the NICU. I did this at night time a lot just to get reports of how he was doing.
The worst part is leaving the hospital each time without your baby, but remember this won't be forever. Aother thing I struggled with was that this was not my first child.
This meant that I still needed to be there for my daughter and so we just couldn't stay up in the hospital all day (we went in twice a day). She still needed lunch/dinner and naptime/bedtime. Being a parent with other kids while having a baby in the NICU is rough. You feel like you are torn between your kids.
5. It's OK to Cry
I think the first time I actually cried in the NICU was when my little guy was hooked up to the high-flow ventilator and he just looked so helpless. The nurses there were quick to hand me a box of tissues (they must go through a ton!) and comfort me.
I am not one to cry in front of strangers, but I couldn't hold up anymore. To be honest, I think it helped me just a little bit to cry.
6. Get to know the Doctors and Nurses
This helps because it makes it easier (almost) to leave the NICU each day knowing who is taking care of your little one. We had quite a few nurses, but one I will always remember.
She was with our little guy more than the other nurses and she even called to check up on him on her days off. She also stayed late one night too help comfort me, because I was a mess.
NICU nurses are angels God thought the world needed. I don't know how they do everything they do, but I will never forget it.
There is no way around saying it: having a baby in the NICU sucks. There are so many emotions going through your head and all you want is to bring your baby home.
No matter what, know that your baby is strong! I remember being given a sunshine bag from the Collins Grace Foundation and in it had a bracelet that said: NICU strong.
Not only is your baby strong, but you will also be stronger after enduring this struggle. Feel free to comment below and share your tips or experiences with the NICU. I hope this parents guide to surviving the NICU helps!