Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit is extremely stressful. We asked staff members who are also NICU parents for their advice for making this difficult time more manageable. Here are a few tips from our experts:
- Let go and accept the things that you can control. So much of what is happening is completely out of your control but letting go helps decrease the stress that comes from that lack of control. Many of the "normal" or "typical" parent-child interactions are different because of monitors, illness, IV lines, etc. However, there are great opportunities for NICU parents to be hands-on and to have positive interactions with your baby. Work with your nursing team to learn and understand what those opportunities are.
- Try to normalize the experience as much as possible. Take pictures. Scrapbook. Videotape your baby. Share your baby's feats with loved ones. It's so therapeutic to bring others in to worry and celebrate with you. Some suggestions for photos/scrapbooks/keepsakes:
- Buy a very small stuffed animal and take a picture of your baby with it during her first few days. Then, take a picture of baby and her lovey when she comes home from the hospital, turns one, and so on. The difference will amaze you.
- Remember to slip Daddy's wedding ring over your baby's hand/wrist and capture that, too.
- Have someone take a picture during skin-to-skin/kangaroo time-- you will never forget that feeling.
- Keep a (clean) micro-preemie sized diaper, a PICC line or anything else tiny that the nurses will let you take home.
- Keep baby's first outfit worn in the hospital and the one worn home.
- Consider keeping these tiny items for display at baby's high school graduation party. It will show how incredibly far your micro-preemie has come.
- Recognize that you really do have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your baby. Every parent wants to be at their baby's bedside 24 hours a day, but the reality is that you need your rest, you need healthy meals, and you need time away to breathe. Doing so will make your interactions at the bedside so much more meaningful and positive.
- Talk to someone. The NICU has a counselor on staff that is here to help support parents and serve as a resource. This time is incredibly stressful. For many families, it is the most stressful thing they have ever (and maybe will ever) experience. Talk it out. Ask for validation. A counselor such as ours can help you to understand what is normal about the coping process and can help you find resources.
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin as much as your baby will tolerate. That quiet bonding time has the ability to take away stress for you and your baby. It also helps you, as a parent, feel like this is something that you can do for your baby that no one else can.
- Connect with other parents if possible. Our Lunch and Learn parent support group is a great place to start. It is so great to hear other people's stories and to know that other people truly understand what you are going through and the stress that you are enduring.
- Get to know your nurses and communicate your questions and understanding of your baby's plan of care clearly. You will feel more secure by being involved in your baby's plan of care and more comfortable with the people who are caring for your baby. Your involvement will give you some control and will benefit your baby.
- Use the magic of Skype and Facetime to show off your new baby to loved ones who might not be able to visit.
- Remember: being in the NICU is like being on a roller coaster. The journey from start to finish is never a straight line as there are ups, downs, twists and turns. The ride can sometimes be smooth and enjoyable. Other times it is bumpy and you can't wait to get off. The ride is different for every family and every baby - there is no predicting what kind of ride you will have. If you can try to find the enjoyable moments (even on the bumpy twists) the ride will not seem too long. Before you know it you will be headed off to ride other rides. One thing is certain: when your baby is able to go home, you get to leave with the ultimate prize.
If you're a NICU parent and have some tips to share with others, email Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you. Our current and future NICU parents will benefit from your wisdom.