Life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a foreign experience for many families. It’s hard to know what to expect or do as no family plans to spend time there. Expecting families hope to have a healthy baby born free of any complications. It’s devastating when this doesn’t happen. Pregnancy is a time filled with such great hope and expectations.
Experiencing a NICU stay understandably brings up a lot of emotions for families. Here are some common experiences to expect. Keep in mind that everyone’s journey is unique and valid.
What to Expect
Many parents grieve the loss of the expected outcome. If the pregnancy has ended early and the baby was born premature, having grief around the early end of the pregnancy itself is common. Even if the baby was born full term with complications that required a NICU stay, it’s normal to grieve the inability to leave the hospital with your baby.
Feeling angry is also normal. Many moms have shared with me that they feel robbed of the full experience of having a healthy baby they can bring home after birth.
Life in the NICU is often described as being on a rollercoaster with lots of twists and turns. It’s a very scary time and you’ve suddenly been thrust into a whole new world where you know little about.
Understanding your baby’s medical condition, treatment recommendations, role of various treatment team members, the machines and what the different sounds mean. It’s quite overwhelming and can be confusing especially when changes are happening rapidly.
Fear and Anxiety
There are so many questions about what happens next. You might be wondering if your baby will survive or if there’ll be any ongoing health issues to contend with. Some moms worry about their ability to parent their babies when they come home. After spending a great deal of time in the NICU, it’s common to feel some insecurity around your own parenting without the support of a medical team. There are also some logistics to consider. You may find yourself worried about how to navigate work and spending time in the NICU with your baby.
What to Do
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In fact, ask a million if you need to. Not knowing or understanding what’s happening naturally increases fear. Arming yourself with information can be helpful. Ask for medical staff to repeatedly explain things until you feel you have a clear understanding of what’s happening with your baby.
There’s often so much going on that it can be difficult to keep it all straight. Have a notebook dedicated for your NICU journey. You can use it to keep track of medical diagnoses, treatments received and your baby’s progress. You can also use it to journal how you’re feeling and coping during this time. Moms I work with are always amazed when they look back and reflect on everything that happened.
Parent Your Baby
Just because your baby is in the NICU and is under the medical care and supervision of the medical team, doesn’t mean you can’t parent your baby still. This can help you to feel more involved in your baby’s physical care and feel a greater sense of connection and identity with your role as a parent. Ask what you can do and let the nurses know if this is something that’s important to you. You don’t have to wait until your baby comes home to start creating memories together. You are most definitely an important part of your baby’s team.
Many hospitals have support groups for parents that you can attend. This can help to connect with other moms who are on a similar journey and know what it feels like to have a baby in the NICU.
Take Care of Yourself
You may feel deeply concerned, scared and worried about your baby and that’s okay. Don’t forget to take care of yourself also. Make sure you are getting adequate rest, hydration and nutrients for your body. You will need your strength to care for your baby and that starts with taking care of yourself as best as you can. If you need help finding ways to cope with your NICU experience, you can schedule a complimentary consultation with me.