The time your baby is in the NICU is always very stressful for parents. First and foremost is your constant concern for your infant. There can be many ups and downs in the NICU and often your infant’s status can change very rapidly. One day your baby may be doing really well and the next, your baby may need greater medical intervention.
As a parent of a child in the NICU you may have many other competing responsibilities and concerns. Generally babies can be in the NICU for many weeks. As a rule of thumb, the length of stay corresponds to your due date but this is not always the case. But for instance, if your baby is 8 weeks early this may mean your baby will be in the NICU for 8 weeks, if not longer. You may have other children at home to care for, a job or live some distance from the hospital. It is important for you to have a personal plan and to take care of your own health. Here are some things to consider:
- If you have other children at home can a family member or friend help care for them?
- Are you getting enough rest? Is there a place in the NICU – often the room where mothers can pump – where you can rest if you need to while at the hospital?
- Remember to eat and drink enough fluids – particularly if you are pumping for your baby or have started to nurse. Carry water and snacks in your bag.
- Do what feels right for you as parents when it comes to visitors. If you do not feel ready for family to visit – be firm and don’t feel guilty. NICUs are very busy, stressful places as it is.
- Trust your instincts in your baby’s care and speak up if something feels wrong.
- Find out about in hospital support for parents. Most NICUs provide parent peer support groups and some NICUs have introduced parent empowerment programs where different aspects of NICU care are explained in plain language to help parents understand what is going on.
- There are many online support groups where other NICU parents share their stories. Reading how others have coped can be very helpful.
- Ask for help from the social worker or patient advocate if you have concerns that you don’t feel are being addressed.
- Keep a journal to record your own thoughts and feelings.
I would love to hear from readers what they did to help them cope while their baby was in the NICU.