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Challenge: NICU Parenting

The NICU has no guidebook

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Our son was born at 33 weeks and while he was large for his gestational age (5lbs 10oz) he ended up spending 50 days in the NICU. With him being early, we anticipated he might have some NICU time, but nothing could prepare us for the long road ahead. We immediately became preemie parents without any former knowledge and no guidebook to lead the way. Here are a few things I wish I had known before our baby was born.

Moms are healing too

What many don’t realize is that many moms, not just the babies, enter the NICU world in need of care and repair. For me, I had just battled through months of pregnancy with the condition placenta previa, where the placenta is covering the cervix and puts the mom at risk of many complications including preterm labor and bleeding. Week after week I lived with a very real, life threatening diagnosis, a constant worry of hemorrhaging or delivering early. A feeling that your life or the life of your baby is in danger. While my delivery, although 7 weeks early, went as smoothly as it could, I was bringing all of these overwhelming feelings as well as the physical pain with me into my new baby’s world. The kindness and compassion from the nurses helped me in a time where I felt broken and unable to fully care for my baby. That being said, I also had to remember to take care of myself. Not push too hard physically, get a good night sleep when possible and not spend every waking moment hovering over the NICU bed. That being said…

There is no ‘right’ amount of time to spend in the NICU

When our son first entered the NICU, I was recovering from a c-section. Per doctors orders I was advised not to spend too much time out and about for the first few weeks. Keeping the visits short were difficult but I knew it was best for my recovery and for our new baby to get the care and rest he needed. As weeks went by and I started to feel ‘normal,’ I also began to notice that I was wrestling with how much time I should spend in the NICU. We had a toddler at home and life was still chugging along outside the hospital. Of course, I would have loved to have been at his bedside 24/7, but this was simply not realistic. Finding a balance between being at home and being in the NICU was not easy and I never felt like what I was doing was enough on either front. I wish I had trusted that I was doing my best, I was juggling all that had been thrown at me, and ultimately I cared deeply for my baby, whether or not I was constantly by his side.

Fight for the best care for you baby

I was very fortunate to have excellent care for my baby in which I completely trusted our doctors and nurses. That being said, after a couple weeks in the NICU, I also trusted that no one knew my baby better than me. I was the one there day in and day out, helping with feedings, following his progress and seeing his setbacks. It’s a tough road to navigate but when I didn’t feel comfortable with something, I had to learn to speak up and at least express my opinion. Being involved with your baby’s care and knowing that you have a right to highlight any concerns is critical. Ask questions and don’t feel like you can’t have a voice in your baby’s care.

Every baby is different

I remember the first week our son was born and we started to tell some family and friends that while he was doing well, he would be spending some time in the NICU. It seemed as if everyone had known a previous preemie before and they were quick to share their well-meaning support. “My friend’s sister had a 32 week old baby that only spent 8 days in the NICU” “My cousin had a 34 week preemie that went home the same time as mom.” I loved hearing these great successes, until the days kept going by and I started focusing solely on the day count. Why wasn’t my child home yet? How many more days could we handle? Our doctor initially said that we could expect to be in the NICU until baby’s original due date, 46 days. Surely our little whippersnapper would beat that timeline and would be home in no time. Little did we know that not only would the due date would come and go but we would have to patiently wait out 4 more days. These were by far the longest. It wasn’t easy but I would be quick to tell any future NICU mom that every baby is different and you shouldn’t create any expectations for a timeline. Your baby is in the best place for them at the moment and counting days only adds unneeded stress. Don’t count the days, count the progress. Being taken off of oxygen, a few extra grams gained, a couple more mLs at feedings. The little victories of the day-by-day are what really add up.

Ask for Help

Being on bedrest for a month prior to my delivery, I reluctantly learned I needed to ask for help. I have always been stubborn and independent, so this humble lesson helped me even more once our little guy was in the NICU. I always imagined that I was inconveniencing friends or family by reaching out for support; help cleaning, cooking or caring for our toddler. In reality, people enjoy helping. It feeds the soul and brings joy when times are tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t feel guilty for needing it. When I started asking for help, I was able to free up more room to focus on my baby and my family at home. There is nothing that can truly prepare you for a NICU stay but reaching out to family, friends and fellow NICU parents will help you along on the difficult journey.


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