Nowadays, we are able to Google everything, or at least find a book that gives us more information about what we’re going through in life.  As women become pregnant, they and their partners often turn to the Internet, reference books and even apps on their smartphones and tablets to guide them through each step of the process.  These resources can provide a lot of great information regarding what to expect throughout the pregnancy and delivery—if everything goes smoothly. But what do you do when things don’t go quite as you had planned or hoped, and your baby is admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

Online Resources: Incomplete NICU Parent Support

The bulk of the resources available only give guidance for pregnancies that go completely according to plan—the “ideal” pregnancy. What they don’t often tell you about are the various things that can go wrong—then again, it might be best that way, so as to not worry expectant mothers. That said, how many women plan on being put on bed rest, or developing preeclampsia during pregnancy? How many think they’ll have placenta previa or a premature delivery?  These resources often touch lightly on these topics and very briefly discuss the NICU.  Did you know that all babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature?  And that generally, all babies born before 35 weeks are automatically admitted to the NICU?

Neonatal ICU: Now What?

Premature delivery is stressful, and a baby’s admission to NICU is sometimes just the beginning of the roller coaster of emotions that some parents will experience.  There is first the excitement of meeting your little one, followed by the inevitable fear for the baby’s medical status and prognosis. New parents may then feel separation anxiety when their baby is taken to the NICU, which is often accompanied by nervousness as you wait for answers from the medical team.  As time passes, your patience can begin to waver as you anxiously wait for your baby’s discharge home.

Getting NICU Counseling and Support Networks

While in NICU, parents are forced to adjust to their new normal—a new home in the NICU, a new routine visiting the NICU daily, and a new family in the NICU staff. Thankfully, NICU parent support is available for you.

There are a few simple tips to manage a NICU admission:

1)    Remember to take care of yourself. Though this is easier said than done in many cases, it is the most important.  Remember that the NICU staff is taking great care of your baby, and try to use this time to take care of yourself and allow yourself to recover from your pregnancy and delivery. This way, you can get a head start on being rested and nourished for when your baby gets to go home.  It is also important to stay hydrated, as NICUs are often very dry and warm environments. Also, remember to take breaks. It is okay to not be in the NICU 24/7, even if that’s what you feel you should be doing.  Go for walks, or go home and shower.  However you can, find some time for yourself.

2)    Try not to Google everything you think might be happening. Again, this is easier said than done, but remember that your baby’s story is not on the Internet.  Your baby’s story is unique to him/her and your family.  No two NICUs are the same, and no two babies are the same—even if they are twins.

3)    Interact and engage with your baby. Start to establish skin-to-skin contact as soon as the NICU staff allows you to. As you gain confidence, participate in your baby’s care as much as possible, so that by the time everyone can go home, you’re ready to independently care for your baby.  Read books, sing songs and decorate their space in the NICU.  You and your partner are the most important people to your baby, and are just as much a part of the care team as the medical staff.

4)    Be your baby’s advocate as well as your own.  If you have a concern or question, or don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask the staff to explain something.  It is always ok to ask questions and take notes! Neonatal intensive care can be a stressful time, but you can get through it.

5)    Keep a journal. Take notes as the doctors are explaining things. Mark down the milestones (the day your baby graduated to an open crib, or started breathing room air instead of oxygen, etc.). This can be a form of NICU support, as it helps you get your concerns and worries off of your chest and onto paper.

6)    Ask for help and support. If you need an NICU support group, or are interested in seeking NICU parent support, the NICU staff should be able to provide you with resources.   If there is any time to ask for support or help from friends, now is the time—for example: rides to and from the hospital, meals, housecleaning, pet care, lunch breaks, parking assistance, etc. You need all the support you can get right now, so try not to be bashful about asking for it. NICU admissions are a hard battle for many parents, but with a support system surrounding you, the transition can be made more manageable.

Your new baby going to the NICU is a stressful event—but thankfully, you don’t have to face it alone. Never feel bashful asking for help when you need it, and remember to take care of yourself along the way, as well.