My son recently turned 2 years old, and like most moms, I’m feeling ALL the feelings. These milestones, for me, always come with reflection on our time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). When my water broke at 32 weeks (at work!!), I was almost immediately told that we would have to spend time in the NICU after my son was born. All of my careful planning went down the drain, and my heart broke thinking about him not coming home with us.
I gave birth to my son at 33 weeks. Quickly after delivery, he was whisked away to the NICU. I didn’t get to hold him and couldn’t go with him because I was still numb from the epidural. I was finally able to see my beautiful baby about 4 hours after he made his way into the world. Thankfully, I could hold him but he was attached to a lot of wires and monitors.
At the time, with so much uncertainty of a graduation date, 17 days could’ve easily been 17 years.
We spent 17 very long days in the NICU, but our son was a healthy weight (4 lb. 15 oz) with no breathing issues and no other serious health concerns. We were very lucky. At the time, with so much uncertainty of a graduation date, 17 days could’ve easily been 17 years though. After several days, though, we got into a NICU groove. While it was never easy and I cried literally every day, looking back there were several things that helped to make our stay a bit easier.
Five Tips for NICU Parents
1. Bring things from home to make you and your baby more comfortable.
I’ve always said that the moment you put window treatments up in a space is the moment when you decide to stay. So this was really hard for me because it felt like the more settled we were, the longer we believed we were staying in the hospital. Some rooms we saw were sparse and others looked like actual nurseries. Every family needs to do what is best for them and their situation. What worked for us was to bring some things that made us feel a little more at home. Each hospital is different so be sure to check with them to see what’s okay to bring, but here are some of the items that we brought with us.
- Baby blankets and hats
- Boppy pillow
- Blanket for you (it can be cold in the room)
- Bathrobe for you (for skin to skin time and nursing)
- Small noise machine
2. Bring a notebook.
At our hospital, we were able to attend morning rounds with the doctors and nurses. A notebook was critical to write down the day-to-day updates. My mind was always racing, and I was super overwhelmed so it was impossible for me to keep track of everything. I wrote as much down as I could during rounds and then if I had questions later, I would ask a nurse and write her answer down too. Maybe most importantly, I wrote down big accomplishments like his steady weight gain and the day he was able to finally wear pajamas.
3. Read books, talk, and sing to your baby.
I wanted this experience to feel as much like it would be at home so I brought baby books or downloaded them (free with Amazon Prime!) to read to him. When I didn’t feel like reading, I would sing him random songs or tell him all about each family member and friend who he would meet one day. Whether you read, sing, or talk, take every opportunity you have to bond with your sweet baby.
4. Join a NICU parent group or reach out to another NICU parent for support.
The NICU experience can be extremely isolating. Most people don’t know what you’re going through; they say the wrong things and it’s incredibly exhausting to explain the terminology and to give updates. I was lucky that one of my closest friends is a former NICU mom who gently guided and advised me along the way. She also added me to our hospital’s NICU support group. Reading posts from this group enabled me to see what others were going through and also where they were months and years later in their journeys.
5. Find moments throughout the day to take care of you.
This may sound hard and it actually really is. All I wanted to do was sit by his crib or hold him (when I could), so stepping away felt impossible. I knew I needed something to get me out of my own head. So I read A LOT. While I don’t recall anything that I read (I should probably go back and re-read everything), it did help me relax a little. I made sure to take a shower every day, I put on some eyeliner and mascara (I get that this is NOT for everyone), and I quickly stepped away for lunch and dinner. You will be at your best to handle setbacks and the general overwhelming stress of the NICU experience if you try to take care of you just a bit.
Bonus Tip: Take pictures!
As hard as it is to see your baby attached to wires, tubes, and everything else, the NICU is part of your story. There’s a lot I think I’ve blocked out from our time in the hospital, but pictures certainly help me remember how far we’ve come.
There’s nothing that could prepare anyone for the NICU – unless maybe you’ve been through it before. It’s so, so hard. Everyone’s experience is vastly different, and each baby and family has their own obstacles and successes. Being a parent is difficult enough, and the NICU adds a whole other level of complexity. I hope that these suggestions help a new NICU mom or dad even just a little, but please also remember that it’s your experience and what works for one family might not work for yours. Give yourself grace, breathe, and take it one day at a time.
Be sure to check with your local hospital for additional resources.