Taking the NICU with a grain of salt

April 21 | Guest post by Nikki Cupcake
By: Stacey PalmerCC BY 2.0

The NICU can be a scary place. It really isn't ever on anyone's birth plan, but can show up. What's even scary is when you don't know what's going on. I remember when I was told that my son would be in the NICU for an extended period of time. I was beyond frightened. I felt helpless and like I did something wrong to make my baby sick. Looking back on it there's quite a few things I wish I knew. Knowing them now, I hope to share them and make someone's experience in the NICU a whole lot less scary.

1. Full term babies can end up in the NICU. I know it's crazy to think about it but it happens. There are certain things a hospital just won't do when a baby is the nursery. An example of this is give oxygen or antibiotics. It's for the best. Your little one is getting the best care in the world!

2. 90% of the time the nurses are fucking awesome. (I only say 90% of the time because I had some issues with a nurse) They are your advocate, they really do care about your child. It takes a very special nurse to be in the NICU. They must be caring, compassionate, respectful, professional, and a great teacher. In the NICU the nurse is going to step in and be mommy and daddy when you just can't be there. They will take care of feeding and soothe the baby when you can't. The coolest thing about NICU nurses is that they will help you in anyway they can. It's great.

3. It doesn't matter how awesome of a hospital you deliver at, the longer you are at the hospital the more things you see. The more things you see there's more of a chance you'll see something wrong. Hospitals always make slip-ups. Sometime things just happen. My son was only in the hospital for 9 days but I saw plenty of things I didn't like, but I took it with a grain of salt. But if there is anything seriously wrong SPEAK UP! Remember the patient advocate is there for you.

4. There's this rumor we all grew up hearing. You know the one about having to hold your child in the first few minutes of birth to have a bond. Guess what? It isn't true. I know right? Well this is a good one for NICU parents to know. Sometimes you can't hold your baby right away, and that's alright. You still can form an awesome bond. The bond you share with your child takes weeks and months to devolve not minutes. I didn't see my son until he was 3 days old and he's a mommy's boy.

5. Ask questions and speak up! The worst thing I did when my son did his time was not speaking up. I was never introduced to his doctor and I never knew what was going on. I was too scared to until the most awesome doctor ever just flat out told me I need to know what's going on. He made a point to makes sure I became informed, but not everyone has an angel like that. So remember it's your right to know what's going on. You can call the staff whenever you want and ask questions or have them call you if you can't be in the NICU all the time. There's nothing better than being an informed parent.

6. It's ok to take pictures! Hey even some hospitals come around and take pictures in the NICU. I had my camera every time I went the NICU. Remember that there are services that will even come out and take pictures no matter how dire the situation is with your child.

7. The NICU has great services, utilize them. Good chance they have a lactation specialist, extended stay rooms for parents, people to talk to, access to awesome medical specialist, the list goes on. The NICU my son was in even had special rooms parents could stay in overnight and learn how to take care of their babies before they came home.

8. One thing about the NICU is that babies that are there get awesome medical care. Your baby will go under a million different tests before they come home. My son had chest e-rays, a spinal tap, hourly blood work, was incubated, was on a respirator, had photo therapy, and god knows what else. When he was discharged the hospital gave me a grim outlook on his hearing. He's perfectly healthy today (and can hear just fine), but the hospital still scared me (and we have a great hearing specialist just incase). Some babies have other kinds of issues when they are discharged so there will be tons of follow ups and tons of doctors appointments for weeks to come. And some preventive care just to makes sure if there are any issues they are caught early.

9. If possible there are things you can stick to on your birth plan like breast feeding or what shots your baby gets. Make sure you voice that you have a birth plan and want to incorporate it into your child's care plan. If that doesn't work remember a birth plan is just a plan. It just may not work with what's going on with your baby.

10. The best thing you can do as a NICU parent is just take a deep breath. There will be tubes and wires. There will be incubators and warming beds. There will be alarms and loud binging. You're allowed to be scared, but never forget everything is being done to help your baby. Everyone on the staff is pulling for your little one to grow up to their full potential. The best thing you can do is just be there for your child.

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  1. Nice post. Our NICU experience was very trying at times but we were relieved to have our baby monitored until he had the surgery he needed. And no kidding about the fact that full term babies can be in the NICU… I think some of our nurses needed that reminder. They called him "the term baby" in a way that sounded like it was insult that he'd stayed in the womb 9 months.

    We were able to hold our baby any time we wanted but the breastfeeding support from the nurses was less than stellar. It felt like they were bothered by us being around all the time trying to nurse him and be with him. At first they asked us our preferences- like if we wanted him to have a bottle and a pacifier, which we didn't, but then they just went ahead and gave them to him anyway. I tried to look at it like a community where, for the sake of the other tiny patients in close proximity, I would have to let go of some of my wishes. A couple of nurses had control issues/acted like cold robots but most were helpful and caring.

  2. My son was in the NICU for 8 days after his birth, and I couldn't agree with these more! It was terrifying, but in the end absolutely the best thing for our new family. I had the great fortune to run into several of his nurses one morning at breakfast a couple of months after he was released, and despite them calling him a number instead of his name, they fawned all over him and a couple were close to tears to see him doing so well and thriving. Of course I'd rather he'd never had to have been in the NICU, but at least I know in the situation, we all were in amazing hands.

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    • My boyfriend's mother ran into the nurse who delivered him a few months ago (she teaches at a nursing school now). The nurse was talking about this tiny preme she had been there for who must have grown up so small and weak. His mom, recognizing the familiarities in the story asked for the hospital and date and was quite pleased to introduce her to the 6'+, muscular monolith that the tiny baby has grown into over the past 30 years!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post Nikki! I am due in 10 days so I certainly have the NICU on my mind (there is no reason to believe there will be any problems but I think it's a natural fear of all soon-to-be mothers). I have tried to educate myself about every aspect of pregnancy, labour, and postpartum so that I might be somewhat prepared for whatever may arise. Thank you so much!

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this! and thanks to offbeat mama for picking it up from your blog (i saw it on the community a few days ago)!! I'm due in a month or so, and this article is helping calm my nerves A LOT! i think it's always a fear in the back of any new-mother's mind and you article puts the whole NICU experience in a much more positive light. Thank you again!

  5. My son, Jazz, was in the NICU for almost a month, and this is all so fantastically true. I especially loved this:
    "4. There’s this rumor we all grew up hearing. You know the one about having to hold your child in the first few minutes of birth to have a bond. Guess what? It isn’t true. I know right? Well this is a good one for NICU parents to know. Sometimes you can’t hold your baby right away, and that’s alright. You still can form an awesome bond. The bond you share with your child takes weeks and months to devolve not minutes. I didn’t see my son until he was 3 days old and he’s a mommy’s boy."

    This took me WEEKS, MONTHS even to cope with and understand. I was so scared that the two seconds I touched Jasper before he was whisked to the NICU were going to scar our relationship forever, and now? We are tight. Super tight. Tighter than tight.

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  6. Great post!
    Both of my sons were in the NICU. My first is now 14 1/2 years old and 6 feet tall. So the myth that your NICU baby will always be smaller also a falsehood. He was seven weeks premature and spent one month there and came home with a sleep apnea monitor.
    My second is now 2. he was full term but had RDS (breathing issues) He spent a week there.
    It sucks not being able to take your child home with you when you leave. Really..a lot.
    But feel confident that they are being well taken care of so you will be bringing home a healthy baby! (and dont feel guilty about taking care of yourself, trust me you're going to need it!)
    Also hold/touch your child as much as they will let you, dont be afraid. Yes they may be small, and yes they may be more wired than a stereo system. Do it anyway. It feels awesome to hold/touch your baby and your baby loves it. If you doubt me, watch their monitors as they lay against you. Your baby knows you.
    Dotn

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  7. Thank you soooo much for writing this post. I am a nurse, paramedic and 4 months pregnant. I have read a lot of articles lately about how terrible health care is and how pregnancy is treated like a disease. I find this incredibly disheartening. Yes we all hope for the perfect berth and a healthy baby but that doesnt always happen. Health care workers arent being "cruel" by inducing labour. I recognize that many medical interventions are unpleasant (to say the least) but the risks of not performing them could be a lot worse. These are not procedures hospitals do to just anyone for kicks. They are done because a patients health is in danger.
    You are absolutely right. 90% of healthcare workers do this job because we love it and truly care about our patients. I always try to treat my patients the way I would like my family members to be treated.
    Thank you so much for writing about your experience in the NICU. As a health care professional and mommy to be I really appreciated it. I hope you are having a wonderful time with your little man! 🙂

    • I think a lot of people look at healthcare unkindly…. its kind of how we're programed. I had no choices when my son was born. He wouldn't have survived a natural birth and I was at 8 cm when I had my c section! And if it weren't for for modern medicen he wouldn't be here

  8. i was in NICU when i was born and not one person in my family got to hold me till i came home christmas eve, not even my mom and we still bonded very well

  9. I think its important to point out that those first minutes of skin-to-skin contact ARE important for bonding in that it is the simplest easiest way but you are Absolutely right that its not the only way at all. I still hope we mamas will demand that when its safely possible, but its important to remember even adopted children have bonds to their parents so a rush to the NICU or a cesarean does not take that away from you BY ANY MEANS. Remember babies recognize your voice, your scent,they even recognize the scent of their amniotic fluid on your skin from the birth, and on a spiritual level there is so much more. breast feeding is simple way to build more on your connection even if you have to start 'late'. We get to know our children and learn alot about ourselves and it brings out the most creative ways to get closer to our children because no matter what a tiny piece of them will always be carried within us and they will always carry a piece if us, no interruption could change that and even without an interruption every mother will do things to be closer to her child for the rest of her life. Thank you for this great information and I hope that none of us need to use it but the best experiences will come to those who are educated about it.

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  10. Thank you for this post!

    I'm 27 weeks, and we already know we have a long haul ahead of us at the NICU.

    Our son has Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, and will be taken to NICU as soon as he is born, and will undergo surgery to correct the hernia within 48 hours of him stabilizing. Our hope is that he'll be a "term baby" for his lung development!

    We go on a tour of the NICU next week – and thanks to your post, I have even more questions to ask when we are there!

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  11. Thanks for the tips and to the props to the NICU nurses. My mom is a loooong time NICU nurse, and she hates the politics of nursing but loves caring for people's babies in the time that they need it most. I have the utmost of respect for my mom for what she does – she handles the heartache of sick little folks, the difficultly of dealing with stressed out parents, the cattiness of other nurses, and the sheer insanity of working nights because she loves helping out those little bitty babies.

    Just remember, all – if you do have a baby that ends up in the NICU, don't only speak up if you see something you don't like – thank the staff if you see things you DO like! If a particular nurse takes rockin' good care of your kiddo, tell him or her thank you from the bottom of your heart. It'll make an impact, I promise.

  12. Thanks for posting this! My baby spent 6 weeks in NICU after a pretty surprising early birth. The nurses were awesome! Also in the NICU we had required infant CPR and choking classes, something I thin should be required to all new parents. We had counselors available 24 hours a day, and a dr. called me daily. I don't think my son could've gotten better care.

  13. yeah where my son was born they had like a 20 thing check list i had to do before he came home. i had already taken the CPR class and first aid class for children/babies but some of the stuff on the list was things you never thought of the only thing that sucked was how much they made a big deal over my son's car seat (like i said he was term baby) if he was small i would have understood BUT my son after being in the nicu came home at almost 11 pounds and he was more than fine in his car seat. but like i said they made it a huge deal

    (where we live they make car seats a huge deal…. like all kinds of crazy laws, but thats NJ for you…. a bunch of crazy laws!)

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  14. Thank You for this article. I really appreciate that you made a point of how the NICU exists to provide excellent care.
    Warning! Bragging ahead!!:
    My own beloved offbeat Mama is an ultrasound tech in a hospital, her specialty is OB and newborns, so she's the one the NICU and the "Birthing Inn" (sounds pretentious, no?) At her hospital always ask for. And ever day she comes home from scanning babies she tells us how precious the little NICU cuties are, how it breaks her heart to see them and their parents struggling, and how fulfilled she feels to be a part of their healing.

    Yes, many hospital staff members are tired and jaded, yes, many doctors have a God Complex and can be unpleasant or hard to work with. But There are people there who love what they do, and who nothing more than to see you and your baby healthy and happy.

  15. My baby just came 5 weeks early so we didn't have time to create a birth plan or even consider the possibility of NICU. Your post is spot on- the last 5 days has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but now that I'm accepting the reality of the situation and appreciating all the work that is being done as a precaution to make sure my son comes home with the best chance, it makes it easier that he can't be home right away. And #4 is so true and just what my mom reminded me yesterday. Thank you!

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  16. I have boy/girl twins that were born 8weeks early. (Girl: 3lb 14oz – Boy: 4lb 1oz) My boy was in the NICU for 6weeks and my girl was in the NICU for 10weeks. It was the hardest time of my life. It actually started 4weeks before they were born. I started to have contractions and was in the hospital that whole time with contractions all day every day. The most the doctors could do was slow them down but not stop them. Then they couldnt slow them down anymore and I had a successful vaginal delivery. I hated how they just took the kids away without me getting to see them. I would have gotten to see them within a few hours but I was given medication to help with nausea… it knocked me out cold! I even fainted when I tried to go to the bathroom. 13+ hrs later I finally got to see them. I couldnt hold my son because he was on oxygen for the 1st 24hrs. I dont think it affected our bond at all (my son is a mommas boy) but I do think it didnt help with breastfeeding. I thought a lot of the nurses were great… although in hindsight they didnt inform me or help me out as much as they should have. (I really wished I spoke up more) I didnt even meet the babies doctor until just before my son came home. We thought my daughter would come home first because she was better at using the bottle. But when my son did amazingly well and got to come home, the next day my daughter just stopped eating. She needed to be with her brother and family where she would feel loved. The nurses would only change her, feed her, then put her back down, every 3hrs… so she wasnt held or paid attention to otherwise. She even got really fat (for her size) because all her food was going in a tube and she wasnt using any energy all day. I was there as much as I could but we lived hours away from the hospital and I had no car of my own. And once my son came home it made it so much harder to see my daughter. I ended up staying at the Ronald McDonald house for a week before she came home. After fighting with the doctor for a month we talked her into letting us take our daughter home with an NG feeding tube (I had to learn how to put it in and all that). After 2days of being home she started eating and didnt need the tube at all. As much as the hospital tried to help, sometimes all a baby needs to real love from their family.

    My kids are now 16 (almost 17) months old. The last time they got weighted my daughter was 21lb and my son was 23lb. Perfectly healthy, didnt even need to go to the preemie clinic follow up at 6mo. because they were doing so well. They have hit most of their milestones on time or early.

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