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A parent’s survival guide to having a sick newborn in the hospital

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The last thing you want to hear as a new parent is that your perfect, healthy baby is not so perfect or healthy after all.

But it happens. And it happened to us.

The nurses knew something might be wrong when Charlie failed her first oxygen test. Then she failed the second test, and the third test, so from there they took her for X-rays and an echocardiogram.

Our newborn had somehow contracted pneumonia.

The routine two-day hospital stay was extended by an extra week.

We were faced with a million questions. We had no one to ask except for hospital staff. Now that we’ve come out on the other side, I want to share what I wish I had known from the start.

1. Ask about a twilight room.

We learned that many hospitals offer twilight rooms—very basic accommodations for parents with sick babies.

Twilight rooms are typically prioritized by several factors: the family home’s distance from the hospital, whether the mother is breastfeeding, the seriousness of the baby’s illness, etc. I managed to keep the same twilight room for the entire week that I needed it, but that doesn’t always happen.

2. Give loved ones assignments.

Your friends and family will want to help. But they won’t know how.

And even if you feel like you’re inconveniencing people, isn’t that what family is for?

So when things pop up—a dog at home that needs to be fed and walked, bins to be placed in the street for the garbage truck, or you just need to see people who aren’t wearing scrubs and being paid to talk to you—don’t let it go unsaid. Don’t hope that someone will read your mind and know what you need.

Call or text your people and offer up a specific, real assignment.

3. Alternate between cafeterias in the hospital.

You’ll find it easiest to eat in the hospital rather than going out or going home. That’s not to say you should never leave the premises; just that you may not want the hassle every time.

If your hospital is relatively big it probably offers at least a couple options for food. Check them all out and rotate through them to avoid eating the same meal every day. The point is, you’ll feel better the more variety you can keep in your diet.

4. Take time for yourself.

New parents can feel like they exist only to serve the needs of their babies. You start to lose a sense of yourself. Dads can feel this just as much as moms can.

Remember that your job now is to take care of yourself so that you can also take care of your new child. If that means you need a little time away, take some time away. No one is going to blame you for escaping the stuffy, cramped nursery for a couple hours.

Logistically, it can be hard to leave, especially if you’re breastfeeding your baby. However, it’s not impossible. We ended up breaking out the breast pump earlier than planned in order to provide some extra bottles of milk to the nurses.

5. Bring board games.

Or books or knitting or laptops or movies. Or all of the above. You will have a lot of extra time on your hands and you can only stare adoringly at your newborn child for so long before your brain starts to melt from inactivity.

Babies have very little interest or awareness in what’s happening around them. They don’t mind if you sit and read instead of smiling at them for hours on end.

Our entertainment? Scrabble, Netflix, blog, Facebook, and school work.

6. Go for walks.

I suggest walking for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll quickly run out of things to do in the hospital. Walking and people-watching keeps you busy.

Second, if you’re the one who just gave birth, walking offers a chance to build up your strength again and start down the road to recovery. Of course, not everyone will be ready to walk just days after delivering a baby. But for me, walking was the perfect way to start feeling more normal.

7. Lean on the nurses and other hospital staff.

Appreciate their help! Use them! When they offer to clear out your baby’s nose or burp her after a feed, don’t feel guilty about accepting. A time will come when you’ll have to do everything yourself.

Take some shifts, of course, so you’re not clueless on your first night home, but really. Don’t feel guilty handing your newborn off to a nurse.

8. Take showers.

Just like walking might help you feel more like yourself, showering regularly, brushing your teeth, and maintaining basic hygiene will help you feel more alert and refreshed.

Although I had a hard time finding moments to sneak away, I felt like an entirely different person when I managed to shower and clean up. (#worthit)

9. Meet with a financial counselor at the hospital.

Many hospitals will forgive debts for families in need. If your insurance coverage leaves something to be desired, and you’re concerned about how you’ll pay the enormous bills, make an appointment with a financial counselor at the hospital.

I don’t want to pretend to be any sort of expert on having a child with a serious illness.

We had a taste of what it’s like, though, to spend days—or, heaven forbid, months—in the hospital waiting for your helpless baby to get better.

Just remember, this too shall pass.

[This article was first published on Coffee Cat Dog Kid. See the original post for the full text.

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