Parents do many things to prepare for the arrival of a new baby – decorating the nursery, buying a car seat and stroller, selecting a name and so much more. No matter how much preparation you do, the unexpected can happen. Due to a variety of reasons, you could find yourself in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) sitting by your newborn baby.
When I found out I was expecting triplets, I was told it was highly likely they would spend time in the NICU due to premature birth. I had absolutely no idea how to prepare, the information was overwhelming and the uncertainty was frightening. I have found the true experts are parents who have been through the experience. The information they share gives you a glimpse into what you can really expect during the NICU experience. Here are some of the most valuable tips.
When you visit your child in the NICU for the first time it can be very intimidating. Your baby will be covered with wires and may look tiny and fragile. It is normal to feel nervous about caring for your child. Ask the NICU nurses how you can get involved in your child’s care. They are usually more than willing to teach you how to work around their medical equipment. Take your child’s temperature, change diapers, and assist with bathing. Getting involved with your child’s care will help you both feel more connected and make you more comfortable in the NICU environment. “If you cannot hold them, still touch them through the isomer as much as you can, it will calm you and baby.” says Corrie Ward, mom of four of Vancouver.
Babies Progress at their Own Pace
“Don’t compare yourself or your child to the others there in the NICU.” says Sufia Levin Vancouver mother of two. The rule of thumb is that babies born prematurely will typically go home around their due date; however, this is not always the case. “When another baby improves and yours doesn’t, it isn’t a measure of your success as a parent. Every NICU baby is different.” says Karilyn Thomas, Vancouver mom of nine.
Take Care of Yourself
When your child is in the NICU it is easy to be focused on their health above all else, Amidst all the struggles we must not forget Mom just gave birth, often by emergency C-section and sometimes after weeks of bed rest. Take care of yourself during this time. Eat healthy meals, drink water, take breaks, spend time with your significant other and older children and ask for help. “Be there as much as you can but remember to care for yourself.” says Louis Angus, Vancouver mom of two. Many times friends and family will want to help but they won’t know what to do unless you ask. Give them specific tasks that will make your life easier, like preparing a meal for your family or doing a load of laundry.
Document this Special Time
The NICU is a stressful place which makes it easy to forget to document the milestones your baby meets. Take photos and record milestones. “A dear friend gave me a calendar to record which nurse was working each day and other specifics like bath or the first day our baby was cordless (no more tubes!).” says Karilyn Thomas. “I’m glad I can look back on those things and kept track of each small success.” Although it is hard to see your tiny baby fighting in the NICU, many parents cherish those photos because they are proof of how far their amazing and strong child has come.
Be your Child’s Advocate
Do not be afraid to ask questions. The doctors and nurses work hard to give your child the best possible care but the parent plays a big part in the care their child will receive. Try to be present during rounds and to help care for baby during baths and feedings.
Some of the Things You See Will Be Heartbreaking
“The doctors were never able to assure me of a good outcome which was the most challenging part.” says Angus, whose child was born at just 25 weeks. It will be difficult to witness some of the things that go on in the NICU as babies struggle to grow and thrive. It is best to take comfort in the knowledge that miracles happen there. “Never give up. Talk to other parents in the NICU because they are a wonderful support. Your child can have a good outcome!” says Angus.
It Will End
Each day in the NICU seems like an eternity, but when your child comes home and the years go by, that time becomes a distant memory. It seems like it is a never ending experience regardless of if it’s 5 days or 5 months but it will be a thing of the past before you know it. Angus says “The doctors may not be able to assure you of a good outcome right now but good outcomes do exist. My 780g mirco-preemie is now in eighth grade and doing very well.”
Our NICU experiences were one of the most difficult seasons my family has walked through. Even so, I find myself looking back on it fondly because I am more aware of how miraculous life is. It is a stressful place to be, but the NICU staff is there to do everything possible to get your baby well and home with their family.