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10 Ways to Cope When Your Baby Is in the NICU

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Sometimes bringing your bundle of joy home right away isn't an option. If your newborn has to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) it can be scary, intense, and unnerving. Shanna Ferber's son spent many weeks there (and is now doing great!); she has some tips to help you cope.

1. Establish an Easy Way to Update Friends and Family

a woman looking at a laptop screen

Set up a way to communicate with friends and family all at once. Start a group email list, a private facebook page, or assign a close family member you trust to communicate on your behalf. When things happen (good or bad), you won't have to spend time telling people the same thing over and over. It also allows others to share words of encouragement for you to read when you're feeling down.

2. Get to Know Your NICU Nurses

a group of nurses in scrubs

NICU nurses are the ones who spend the most time with your baby, so it’s helpful to get to know them. It makes visits much more enjoyable when you can chat freely and openly with them. While it's their job to care for your baby, they're only human, so they're emotionally invested in your baby, too. It's easier to be a team when you all know each other and get along.

3. Respect the Rules of the NICU

a list of rules drawn up

The NICU where my son stayed had 90+ nurses on staff who took care of 40-50 preemies at a time. When you look at everything they need to do within their shifts, you understand that the rules are there to help keep things running smoothly. It can be difficult to have times when you can't visit or get immediate updates, but the rules are in place so they can care for your baby in the best way possible.

4. Celebrate the Baby Steps

a photo of a baby in a NICU

Every gram of weight gained, every mL added to his feeding tube, and every small NICU milestone deserves some celebrating. Early on, the nurses explained to us that there were three main goals that our baby would have to achieve and sustain in order to go home. 1) Breathe on his own; 2) Be able to eat on his own without disrupting his breathing, and; 3) Weigh 1800 grams (3.9 pounds) or more. Knowing these goals early on helped us celebrate each step as they came.

Photo courtesy of Shanna Ferber

5. Ask for Help

a group of people talking

It’s OK to cry. Having a baby in the NICU is rough, so seek support when you can. Ask the NICU if they have a support group for the parents and older siblings of babies in the NICU. It’s very helpful to chat with other parents who are literally right next to you experiencing the same things you are. Don't be shy taking friends up on their offers of help, either—you don't need to go through this alone.

6. Sleep When and Where You Can

a woman sleeping in a bed

If the NICU has a private sleeping area, take advantage of that to save on commuting to/from the hospital. Sadly, ours did not offer this so we traveled 1.5 hours each way every day. If friends or family ask what they can do to help, have someone suggest chipping in on a few days at a nearby hotel to save you from long commute times.

7. Don’t Blame Yourself

a woman looking very stressed

I asked my doctor a million questions, searching for a reason why my son had been born prematurely. I had to accept that things just happen. There’s no sense in trying to place blame on things you have no control over. Even though mommy guilt can be powerful, you have to focus on everything you've done right, not things you imagine you did wrong.

8. Take Lots of Pictures

a photo of a baby in a NICU

Whip out the camera as often as possible. Start a photo album so when things get discouraging you can look back at how much he/she has grown. It can be hard to see how far your baby has come without pictures for comparison. In years to come the photos will tell an amazing story that you and your child can both be proud of.

Photo courtesy of Shanna Ferber

9. Do as Much Kangaroo Care as Possible

a photo of a baby in a NICU

Skin-to-skin contact, or kangaroo care, is good for the baby, but is huge for Mommy (and Daddy, too). According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies have proven that kangaroo care can stabilize baby's heart and respiratory rates, regulate body temperature, and help baby to conserve calories. Plus, you get to snuggle your baby, which is pretty much the best thing ever.

Photo courtesy of Shanna Ferber

10. Enjoy as Much of It as You Can

a photo of a baby in the NICU

The NICU experience is a roller coaster of emotions, and there’s really no telling when it will end. Focus on the positive. Our hospital gave us a “Happy Birthday” cake for our son the day I was discharged. It was an important reminder for me that my baby was here—he just needed a little help before we could take him home.

Photo courtesy of Shanna Ferber

 
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