It’s heartbreaking having a premature baby in the NICU. But as reality I became a NICU mom. In this post, I will be sharing tips on how you can endure the NICU life.The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) life from any parent’s perspective is a scary time. Nothing could have prepared me for the time inside the NICU but having done it twice I feel like I want to write a few “tips” to try and help others.
It was hard, it was nerve-wracking and tiring seeing my son’s born 8 weeks early. Being a mum came naturally but doing it in NICU didn’t. It was hard knowing I should have still been pregnant.
It was a mixed emotion of disbelief, guilt, numbness, anxiety, fear, worry and pain.
NICU mums different emotions appear during this time – NICU time is hard to parents (new ones or not). You have to find your own rhythm, system, pattern as a family in these life-changing weeks & months. It will be hard and trying and very emotional.
Here are my tips to survive the NICU life.
1. Take care of your basic needs
Sleep isn’t even on any NICU mums’ radar but get some rest and enough sleep as possible. Make sure that you eat a well-balanced diet and hydrate well to nourish yourself, especially if you’re pumping breast milk. Easier said than done but you can’t be there for anyone else if you aren’t looking after yourself.
You are recovering from birth and healing during this postpartum period as well. I know it’s hard not to take in too much, especially juggling home and NICU life. If you had a C-section like me, then your wound is still fresh, new, and quite possibly painful so make sure you take it easy. Take the painkillers, don’t overdo it on visiting, get others to help with childcare and housework. You aren’t a superhero so make sure you ask for help.
2. Engage in self-care activities
Find time to nurture yourself, your brain, your mental health. You could read a book while you pump, take 5 minutes for air or whilst you are trying to wind down for rest periods. If you knit as a hobby, you can incorporate a cute hat or booties for your baby. Find something that makes you happy and boosts your spirit. Take a short walk around the hospital garden. Spend time with your significant other.
3. Familiarize yourself with the routine in the NICU
When they do checks on the babies, when the doctors do their rounds, feeding times, and when you can do kangaroo care (should be 24/7 apart from dr rounds) , and stress to them that when possible you want to be the active caregiver of your baby.
We got shown how to do the feeding via the tube, the nappies, the test of the feeding tube as well as his temperature. If you show an interest in it a lot of the nurses will often help you learn how to do the items as it makes you feel more like the mum.
4. Ask questions to your nurses and doctors assigned to your baby
They can explain what you don’t understand and they can answer the questions you will have throughout their stay. Don’t hesitate to clarify before deciding on any medical plans and treatments. You need to remember that you get to decide what happens with your baby care – this could be to do with procedures and care. However, in an emergency event, you may not have a long time to decide, so make sure you are listening to everything they say and know your options.
Your NICU team will do whatever they can to help if you aren’t around or they are unable to reach you to decide on emergency care. You may be asked ahead of time about your wishes when a life-threatening event happens. There is a care plan book that you can fill in with questions, requests and wishes so make sure you have a read of that and carry a biro with you.
5. Reach out for support
You need to make sure you lean on people for moral and mental support. Make sure you ask relatives/ trusted friends if they can help with your other children or if they can help with housework, food, or lifts to and from the NICU unit. If there are medical procedures that you need to attend for your baby then make sure you have allowed enough time as often they can be quite lengthy.
Family and friends , Other NICU parents and NICU community support – NICU Helping Hands; Hand To Hold or March of Dimes NICU Family Support are brilliant people to contact if you need support. If you are a religious person then you might have Church support groups that can help you and support you.
6. Document your NICU stay
You should keep memories and you can do this in a scrapbook, via social media, blog posts or however you want to. You can make notes about your baby, any milestones, parent-healthcare team conferences, or your thoughts/emotions. My advice is to take as many photos of your baby or you with your baby (newborn care, skin-to-skin, or feeding times) as you can. You will look back on them multiple times over the years and each time the memories will be different.
7. Spend time with your other children
It can be difficult for children to navigate the NICU routine and see their baby sibling’s condition. Being with your children can strengthen you as well as them. Ask them about their school and other activities. COVID hasn’t allowed kids to be in the NICU so take photos and get them to do drawings for their siblings crib / incubator.
8. Support Each Other
You can adjust your visiting times to go together and or go alone but make sure you talk to each other. Communication is essential to stay connected, lean on each other; you both are taking this NICU journey together.
My husband and I visited together as I was struggling with movement due to my c-section and we didn’t visit alone but with Ethan I often went alone. It is ultimately, do what works for your family. Ethan was with his dad whilst Ezra was in hospital so I could recover and we could focus on Ezra but it is obviously what works for you and your family.
9. Keep Everything From Wires To Papers
We kept everything from both nicu journeys and even though it was hard at the time to look at them I am so glad that I kept them now. The nurses suggested we kept all the name cards, wires and any clothing they gave him and I am so glad they did as I would of regretted it otherwise.
10. Demand a private room
Demand a private room if they have one. I was placed in a ward with three other parents both times and they had their babies and I didn’t and it was horrendous. Hearing a baby’s cry from the other bays and not having my own there made me leak milk and ache from the pain of missing them. So either ask for a private room or asked to be on a bay with other NICU parents, if possible, this will really help with being able to sleep and not get too distressed.
11. Do Kangaroo Care with your baby as much as possible.
This cuddle method is proven to help with the baby’s development, stabilizes the baby’s heart rate and breathing. There are hundreds of other benefits for both mum and baby. For mums, it lowers stress, increases bonding, improves your milk supply, and that is just a few benefits. I loved my kangaroo care and so did Nick with Ezra. It settled him a lot more than when he was in his bed and with Ethan it stopped him being as sick from his reflux. A few nurses told us to put him back or that we only had XX amount of time but the doctors said we could do it as long as the baby was happy. Ezra still loves cuddles now and it settles him an awful lot. If you struggle to get the baby out due to pain or discomfort or just the struggle of all of the wires then ask the nurses to help you.