Having your sweet newborn baby whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a heart-wrenching, anxiety-ridden experience for any parent. Whether born prematurely, underweight, or with health complications, some babies wind up needing extra-special care — and parents find themselves visiting their newest arrival in the NICU instead of adjusting to life as a new family at home.
There’s no way to properly prepare for it — all those startling sounds and foreign equipment and monitors hooked up to your precious bundle of joy — until you experience it firsthand, so we’ve rounded up a few tips for those navigating the NICU (complete with the added stress that can come with it).
Upon being admitted to the NICU, you should receive some basic information about the unit policies, including any visitation guidelines. Many NICUs offer family-centered care, meaning the parents are welcome at any time, day or night. Also, once you get settled and your baby is stable, consider asking for a tour and any pertinent resources, and familiarize yourself with the facility, as well as the physicians and nurses who will be caring for your newborn. Being present and participating during the daily doctors’ rounds can also help alleviate any anxiety and feelings of helplessness. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Get Some Rest
Some NICUs do offer private rooms or cots so the parents can “room-in” with their little one and sleep there overnight. But know that your baby is in wonderful, capable hands in a cozy incubator that mimics that of the womb — so there is nothing wrong with getting some shut-eye at home in your own comfy bed. Because soon enough, you’ll be greeted with a slew of sleepless nights upon bringing baby home. Nurses generally also welcome phone calls to check-in at any time of the day or night — so you’re welcome to call (if you’re up anyway pumping).
Don’t Forget to Nourish Your Body & Destress
You need to keep up your energy — especially if breastfeeding or pumping! While some units have a “no food or drinks” policy, make time somewhere to fuel your body while your baby is getting all the good stuff they need. Friends and family members often want to help but don’t know how, so don’t hesitate to request a takeout meal dropoff or order UberEats. (Check out Jacksonville Mom‘s piece on How to Support a Friend in the NICU.) Also, take some time to destress — do not feel guilty if you can’t spend every waking minute with your newborn. There are even some NICU-specific mindfulness exercises you can practice or try a meditation app like Calm.
Get Hands-On with Your Baby’s Care
While the doctors and nursing staff will be tending to your little one around the clock, there’s nothing wrong with asking to get involved and take on some of those tasks — in fact, depending on baby’s condition, it’s often encouraged. It might seem scary at first, especially if they’re itty-bitty, but if your child is stable enough, you may be able to change their diaper, bottle-feed, or give them a bath. And don’t forget the immense benefits of skin-to-skin contact with both mom and dad! The close connection is proven to help regulate baby’s body temperature, improve vital signs, soothe fussiness, and even aid in breastfeeding.
Personalize the Space & Take Photos
Depending on the individual NICU guidelines, bring a special outfit, lovey or baby gift to keep near the incubator, in addition to a family photo or two. You don’t want to bring in too much clutter, but a little bit can go a long way to make the space feel more like home. Some parents also like to bring an inexpensive tape recorder with sounds of their voices (reading a book, singing lullabies), which can help to soothe baby when Mom or Dad isn’t nearby. And don’t be afraid to take photos or videos of your newborn — these will help you celebrate the wins and remember how far you’ve come!