To most new preemie parents, the NICU, with all its equipment, cables, lights, devices, and everything else, can be…overwhelming. If you’re facing that exact situation right now, your emotions are probably running high, including fear, anxiety, and even a little anger wondering why this is all happening to your precious preemie.
Like every situation in life that’s stressful, with time, you’ll be able to deal with it in more healthy ways until, inevitably, the stress becomes far less or nonexistent. To help you get through these first challenging days, the hardworking nurses of the NICU want you to know a few essential things. Our recommendation; read on and take the advice of the women and men on the NICU front lines.
1- Prepare for a Rollercoaster of Emotions
If there’s one thing most new preemie parents aren’t ready for after their baby’s birth, it’s all the emotions that suddenly appear. Joy, of course, that your little one has finally arrived. Sadness that your pregnancy is over is something many women feel. Anxiety and fear, although not exactly welcome emotions, are absolutely normal.
The thing is, there may even be more and heavier emotions than that, including jealousy, rage, remorse, and, for some, even hopelessness. No, you may not experience all of these emotions, but you will likely experience at least a few.
What you need to know is that everyone has those emotions, and more, after a premature birth. In other words, they’re completely normal, even if some of them are rather unpleasant. The good news is that, with a little bit of time and patience, most of the negative emotions will fade and leave behind only the positive.
2- Your Relationship May Suffer Under the Strain
Even the best of relationships between parents or partners will suffer from the strain of having a preemie in the NICU. That’s why, when you’re home and together without your preemie, working on your relationship is job #1.
The first step is to be open and honest about what you’re feeling and thinking. Patience is definitely a virtue during these trying times as well. Doing something together like walking in the park or seeing a movie together can also be very helpful.
If you already have a relationship that’s strained due to other factors, now might be a good time to reach out and get some qualified help. Remember, there’s a tiny baby who depends on you in the NICU, and they’re getting healthier and stronger every day. Working on your relationship now is a great way to ensure you’ll still have a relationship when your preemie finally gets released and goes home.
3- Ask As Many Questions as You Like
As long as they’re not busier than a bee in a hive, most NICU nurses will gladly answer any questions you might have. They can tell you all about a particular exam and why your preemie needs it, for example, or show you how a bili-blanket works.
One thing to remember, though, is that NICU nurses aren’t mind readers. They can’t tell if you have a question or about the subject unless you do one thing; ask.
4- Be an Advocate for Your Preemie
While the nurses in the NICU are trained professionals who do a fantastic job, mistakes and omissions sometimes occur. One thing NICU nurses want you to know is that if you see or know something isn’t like it should be, you can speak up. In fact, they encourage it and want you to be on high alert for your preemie.
The truth is, your preemie won’t be in the NICU forever. Once they leave the safety of the NICU and go home, it’s going to be up to you to be their advocate for many years. The NICU is a great place to start.
5- Bring Things to the NICU that Give You Comfort
We mentioned above that you could expect to feel many emotions during these first few days and weeks. Some of those emotions can be calmed by having items in the NICU you’ve brought in from home.
Family photos, a stuffed animal, letters, and notes from your family, and other things like these can be a comfort when you’re feeling stressed, down, or any other emotions you might be experiencing. (Just don’t put any of them in the incubator with your preemie, that’s a big no-no.)
5- Remember to Take Care of Your Own Physical and Mental Health
Giving birth is a big, crazy, traumatic experience; there’s no denying that. Most women, however, get to go home after 2 or 3 days and start healing with their new baby. For a preemie mommie, though, there may be days, weeks, and even months spent going back and forth to the hospital. (A preemie daddy too, of course.)
The problem is that all the running back and forth, sleepless nights, postpartum depression, and more can be physically and mentally overwhelming. That’s why it’s best if you get the rest you need, eat right, exercise, and even see friends and socialize (at least a little).
Like we mentioned earlier, you need to be an advocate for your precious preemie. You can’t do that if you’re run ragged, out of energy, and physically exhausted, so make sure to treat yourself right.
6- Make Kangaroo Care a Priority
Kangaroos Care, or skin-to-skin care, is one of the best things for a preemie and a fantastic way to bond with them. Some hospitals and NICUs are big on Kangaroo Care and will encourage it as much as possible. Frankly, though, some aren’t, which is why you should insist on it.
The fact is, that little preemie is your child, and Kangaroo Care is awesome. If you don’t feel like the NICU staff supports it for some reason, insist on it anyway. You can even show them an article like this one about the many benefits of the practice.
7- Stay Positive
The last thing NICU nurses want you to know is simply this; stay positive. The vast majority of preemies get out of the NICU in a few weeks, which will fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be home with your precious preemie, playing with them on their play mat and bonding with them at every turn.
Yes, it’s tough, especially at first, but things will get better (we promise). So do your best to stay positive, ask as many questions as you like, and speak up when you think it’s necessary.
NICU nurses are there to help you and your preemie. All you need to do is help yourself a little bit, also, and in time everything will be just fine.