With my due date approaching…about ten days left, I’m remembering when I had my first daughter. She was born early, nearly twelve weeks early and spent six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. We had a great outcome. She was born with eyes opened and screaming crying, so while she didn’t need oxygen she was still so tiny at just under three pounds that she needed to be fed by a feeding tube and eventually taught to eat and gain weight. She came home about six weeks before my original due date. We had some delays that are typically with preemies but she hit most milestones within the normal range according to her corrected age. Our last hurdle has been speech. She has a slight speech delay and we’re working on that and improving daily.
I’m writing this post to give some simple tips and advice for any mom and/or dad that has a baby in the NICU and is feeling lost and overwhelmed.
1. The nurses and doctors are on your team, and when they are with you and your baby, ask every question that may come up in your mind. There truly is no stupid question. No parent gets pregnant planning on a NICU baby. It’s not like you spent months preparing and researching. Write things down to ask when you’re not there for when you get there. Seriously, they love it when you show interest in your child’s well-being. It doesn’t hurt to bring a couple of dozen of doughnut or a few pizzas to butter them up either. They often miss meals or eat way past their lunch time taking care of your precious little one.
2. Be as involved as possible. As soon as you are able to, the nurses will encourage you to interact with your child. It will be holding your baby inside the incubator while they change the bedding or you learning to change that tiny diaper. It will be Kangaroo care, when you hold you baby skin to skin against your chest. It will be giving your baby a bath. DO NOT BE AFRAID. They will right there to help and guide you. Yes you will be handling a baby that is tinier than anything you ever imagined but they are strong and resilient little fighter! Eventually it will be bottle/breastfeeding and changing their little clothes.
3. Be there as must as humanly possible. It will give you peace of mind. I was a first time when I had my daughter and I wasn’t working. So I basically moved into the hospital. That’s not the reality for every mother though. Some have other children or jobs that they have to go back to in order to save their maternity leave for when their babies are discharged. Just do the best that you can to be there as much as you can. It helps you feel like you know what’s going on and obviously, it helps you to bond with your baby.
4. Reach out to the other moms/dads and make friends. Support each other, eat lunch in the cafeteria together. It helps to have someone who knows exactly what you’re going through while you’re going through it.
5. Breast milk is the reason why I think we had such a great outcome. I was fortunate that my milk came in pretty quickly and I initially responded really well to the pump. I was able to pump hundreds of ounces of milk for my baby over the course of her NICU. I brought enough milk home from their freezer to last a month after she got home. Everyone is different though and the stress of life in the NICU can cause diminished output for some mothers. When pumping for your baby, try to pump every three hours or 8 times a day. That’s typically how much a newborn nurses and you want to mimic that. If your NICU allows it, pump at the bedside. If there’s a nursing room (and I’m pretty sure there is one) use it! When pumping away from your baby look at pictures of your baby. Even better, record video of your baby, especially crying, it helps with your let down response. ASK FOR HELP!! Make sure that you take advantage of the lactation nurses, especially when it’s time to introduce your baby to the breast. They will help to make sure that the latch is strong and correct. They will be your cheerleaders. YOU CAN DO THIS! We breastfed for 29 months!!!
6. Finally, as stressful as this time is, seriously, try to relax and celebrate each and every tiny milestone that your tiny baby reaches. And the best advice I’ve heard is…”A year from now, all of this will be a distant memory!” And that’s so true. By my daughter’s first birthday, she was a very typical happy cake smashing baby.