Every day, babies enter the world needing intensive care, whether it is because they’re born prematurely, underweight or with other health complications. Having a baby in the NICU is an anxious, exhausting experience no family wants to go through. These tips on how to cope while your baby is in the NICU will help you learn what to expect during your infant’s hospital stay, and keep you prepared to get you and baby home.
What is the NICU?
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a hospital ward specifically designed for the care of babies who are born prematurely, underweight, or with other health complications. Some units specialize in different areas such as cardiac care or neurologic care. There are two types of NICUs: the well-baby unit, which is for babies who are not as sick; and the special care baby unit, which is for those who need more intensive monitoring and treatment. A typical course of treatment for a neonate needing intensive care is two-to-four weeks, but many factors will determine how long it will take until your infant returns home.
What To Expect In The First 24 Hours
With all the feelings of fear and uncertainty that come from being separated from your baby, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you can expect in the NICU in the first 24 hours.
Nurses will provide around the clock care for your baby by keeping a close watch on you and baby. so it’s important to be prepared to handle any questions they may have. The nurses will take care of your baby’s basic needs like feeding them and changing their diaper.
The nurses are there to help you, not replace you as a parent. Make sure to ask questions if you’re concerned about something. This includes asking whether or not there are specific things or activities that should or should not be done with your infant. It also includes being able to identify when something might require medical attention, such as when they become lethargic or show signs of difficulty breathing.
Your partner should also have access to the NICU room at any time during regular visiting hours. This way, they’ll feel more involved and reassured by seeing their baby firsthand. This experience can be traumatic for you and your partner, but having a support system around you can make all the difference. Don’t keep your loved ones in the dark for fear of worrying them or making them upset. It is exactly times like these that the people who care for you will want to show their love and support. Let them!
Tips For Visiting The Hospital
It’s easy to forget the little things while we’re under extreme amounts of stress or pressure. The following is a list of tips or reminders for visiting the hospital while your baby is in the NICU:
- Do not be afraid your child will be alone. The nurses are very used to being with parents and will give you all the time you need with your child.
- Bring toys, blankets, music and anything else that might comfort your baby from home, for some semblance of normalcy and familiarity.
- If it’s okay with the nurse, cuddle and hold your baby as much as possible. Skin-to-skin contact is therapeutic for babies and they will benefit from it while they’re in the NICU.
- Feedings can often take place in front of visitors if you would like to watch or help feed your infant.
- Be sure to take advantage of any free support groups offered by hospitals and ask about counseling services before you leave, so you have someone who understands what it feels like to go through this experience. You don’t have to keep all those scary thoughts or feelings to yourself – talk to someone who can lend a listening ear and maybe even some helpful advice.
- You can always bring something for yourself as well to help yourself feel better during these difficult times. Your favorite snacks, books or magazines, a journal, small crafts like crochet or a puzzle, a pillow or blanket from home. Whatever helps you to feel comfortable and ease your stress.
Tips for Helping Your Baby Grow Stronger
There are many things you can do as a family member or caregiver to help your baby get stronger and healthier in the NICU. Here are some of the most important tips for helping your baby grow stronger:
Talk to your baby. If your baby can hear you, it’s likely he or she has been comforted by the sound of your voice.
Sing to your baby. Singing, humming or talking softly with a gentle rhythm can be soothing for both parent and child during stressful times.
Be patient with staff. Nurses and doctors want to give your baby his or her best chance at survival and healthy growth, so they’re doing everything they can for him or her – which might mean asking you to wait when you’re anxious to see him or her.
Focus on what you can control. Sometimes you don’t have control over the decisions doctors make, what kind of care your baby needs now, or what food he or she gets while hospitalized. What is under your control is making sure you’re getting enough rest and managing your stress levels.
The Long Haul – Preparing Yourself For Days and Weeks In the NICU
If your baby is expected to stay in the NICU for a week or more, it’s important that you prepare yourself and your family for the long haul.
Get plenty of rest. Eat healthy meals as often as possible, and try not to go without food for more than five hours at a time (while waiting for your doctor’s appointment, for example). Drink plenty of fluids – water is best. Fresh juices will provide nutrients and energy, herbal teas can help manage stress levels, coconut water will give you plenty of electrolytes and nourishing minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium.
Pack all your essentials like clothes (including underwear), toiletries, medications and toys. Bring enough diapers to last one day per person staying overnight with you in the NICU.
Let someone you trust assist you in keeping up with daily chores at home like laundry, dishes and paying bills. Avoid letting things pile up and you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed.
Find someone to help you care for children at home and arrange childcare during days when you have outpatient appointments. Prepare everyone else in your household, especially children, by explaining what they can expect while mommy is away.
Try not to stress too much; focus instead on the positive outcomes that lie ahead. If you’re feeling anxious or sad because you think your baby may need to spend weeks in the NICU, know that this type of intense medical care is making him or her stronger each day and increasing his or her chance of a full recovery.
For more information about Women’s Health, or If you’re looking for an OBGYN in the Cincinnati area, call us at 513-241-4774, or schedule your appointment.