“So, you’ve had a new baby – congratulations! When is she coming home?”

“We’re not sure. She’s in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).” 

Having our first baby born at 23 weeks, weighing 1lb 5oz (605g), this was a familiar exchange.

Having a premature baby, or a very sick full-term baby, is a very different experience to having a healthy baby who can come home right away.

Here are a few of the main points to keep in mind, should you find yourself in this situation.

You’ve just had a new baby! Obviously.

But perhaps not so obvious, is that this is still an exciting time!

Yes, it’s scary, but do remember to enjoy time with your little one, take lots of pictures, and brag about them like you would if they were not in hospital.

Too many people treated our daughter’s birth like a bereavement.

Only if that tragedy happens, should you let the joy of a new birth be stolen from you.

1. This was nobody’s fault.

Don’t blame yourself for your child’s suffering, or for your spouse’s suffering if they are also sick, or each other for the same.

Guilt eats a person up and ruins their future happiness.

Instead, work together to help each other through this time and become a stronger team.

2. Involve yourself in your child’s care as much as possible.

Many NICU’s encourage parents to actively help in the NICU, change diapers, bathe their babies, monitor vital signs, and record feedings and weights on their charts.

Skin to skin care is also important.

Studies have proven that these approaches help the babies immensely.

Ask your medical team what you can do to help in your own child’s care.

Attend doctors’ rounds, and learn all you can about the treatment your child is receiving.

3. Allow yourself time in the “outside world”

It can be too tempting to stay beside your baby’s incubator 24/7, but you need to look after yourself.

Make a point of going outside for a walk, shopping, or a meal at least once a day.

Too much time at a hospital bedside is very wearing, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Find a quiet place where you can relax, think it all through, and get some peace.

nicu child

4. Stay in contact with friends and family, and if your hospital permits, invite others to see your little one, even if it might require some explanation and patience regarding their condition, especially if your child is connected to many wires and monitors.

Do not let friends and family drift apart from you due to the stress and busyness of hospital life:

you will need their support in the days ahead.

It’s a good idea to make friends with the other parents in the NICU, for no one will better understand the difficulties you’ve been through than another preemie parent.

5. Take a few minutes to check out what facilities are available for families at your hospital.

Ours had parking deals for long-term patients’ families, a family room with laundry facilities, comfy seating and snacks, a library with free computer/wi-fi access, DVD’s, and printers, and a kitchen right next to NICU with free tea, coffee, and cookies!

If needed, see the social worker and other personnel for help with whatever medical or counselling needs you may have.

Hospitals usually want to reduce stress as much as possible, so make use of what is available.

6. Remember you’re in this for the long haul.

Life does not instantly become easy once your baby is released from the NICU.

There may be medical conditions that will continue for much longer.

Strengthen your relationship with your partner, have good friends around you to help with any other children, and pace yourself. Remember, you can say “No” to things, if you know you have enough on your plate right now.

7.  And finally, remember that no matter who your precious little baby might grow up to be, they will always be your child.

Their medical conditions or reduced abilities will never define them.

NICU will always be a part of their history, but it will never be who they are.

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