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.