A Personal Adventure Into Parenthood

A New Parent’s Guide To The NICU: A Cheat Sheet From Someone Who’s Been There April 19, 2012

Before I continue onto V’s journey, I thought this might be a good point to share my list. I actually started this post just over a year ago as a note to a friend and former co-worker who’s pregnancy was at risk for ending in an NICU stay. It was a list of all of the info I wish I’d known going into our experience, questions I wish that I’d asked or things that I wish I’d done. I’ve definitely added a few points but NICU Mommas…please feel free to add any additional suggestions!! These are in no particular order, just written down as I brainstormed!

  • Strike up conversations with other parents. They will look tired, stressed out, and sometimes angry but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to vent, chat or commiserate with other NICU mamas.

  • Ask about your primary care nurse…and what a primary care nurse is and does! I had no idea what a primary care nurse did (they are the nurse who will be primarily responsible for your child’s care..duh…) until V was about 4 weeks old. We didn’t actually meet our primary care nurse until we were moved to Care By Parent…two days before we were discharged. I definitely regret this and think we could have had a smoother experience if we’d had more contact with her!

  • Set up a routine that works for you and don’t judge your visiting times against those of other families. Everyone has different responsibilities and schedules at home which affects their ability to be a fixture in the NICU. I definitely felt that I wasn’t spending enough time with V while he was there but we went back for night visits and other random times when it was pretty quiet around there. Just because another parent is there from 8am to 8pm and you drag your sorry butt in the doors at 11am doesn’t make you a slacker or negligent! Schedule visits when it works best for you and your family.

  • Make friends with the nurses and make your expectations for involvement in and about your child’s care very clear. When we arrived each day my first priority was to find out who was taking care of V for the day, going over the notes in his file for the past night and letting them know if I planned to nurse, hold him, weight him, bathe him, etc during my visit. This set a plan for the day early on and I could make sure I was there for appointments and  dr visits. It also cut down on conflict if they thought there was too much handling going on for the day.

  • Bring pieces of home with you! Stuffed animals, blankets, outfits, anything you can think of! Just make sure you clearly label them, do the occasional search of the hospital laundry basket and don’t bring anything with huge amounts of sentimental value.

  • Take advantage of you and your significant others’ last few days and weeks alone as a couple. Everyone needs some stress-relief and I highly recommend some epic date nights before you being all-nighters with a hungry newborn. Andrew and I saw some great movies and ate some pretty delicious food before we brought our little man home!

  • Take a tour of the NICU beforehand if possible and learn more about the specific structure of the unit later. Ask as many questions as you can to make yourself more comfortable. I had no idea what a NICU looked like when we entered to see V the first time which definitely added to the anxiety of the moment. It was also good to know what the progression of the NICU was like (back room –> front room –> NPCU –> Care By Parent) and helped us monitor his progress by where he spent his time.

  • Show up every single day unless some emergency keeps you away. I had a cold my second week there and when I called to say I wouldn’t be in that day the nurse told that that’s what the masks were for…and they were expecting me that afternoon.

  • Keep the number for the NICU by your phone, but don’t panic when ‘Private Number’ shows up on your caller ID. My heart hit my stomach the first time I saw that display…and all they wanted to know was if they could feed him with a bottle! Good news comes by phone too, which is hard to remember when you suddenly become the world’s biggest pessimist!

  • Develop a filter when dealing with the nurses. Although they may not always tell you what you want or do what you want them to do…they do have years of education and experience with preemies and as a first time mom I learnt to respect their knowledge. It used to break Andrew’s heart when they’d get on his case about holding V after work, but they just wanted him to get as much sleepy growing time as possible..and the faster he gained the faster we’d take him home and be able to hold him all we wanted. A little trade off, as much as it hurts your heart, does go a long way.

  • Pump and do breastfeeding attempts but don’t rule out the bottle…how soon do you want your baby home?? NICU babies need to be feeding-tube free for 48 hours to go home and nursing takes a lot of energy which is in short supply for those little ones. There are definitely success stories about breastfeeding after the hospital but to get home ‘most’ parents go the bottle route.

  • Spend the night if you can…especially as a first time parent. It was great to get some supervised ‘practice’ with V before we actually took him home.

  • Ask about parents support groups set up with the hospital. I wish that we’d gone to the coffee meetings for NICU parents while we were there and am considering volunteering to share our experiences now that we’re a ‘success story’. It would have been nice to hear from parents who had been there, done that, and now had healthy, active kiddos.

  • Take advantage of any professional support offered: physio, respiratory therapists, dr meetings, lactation consultants. They are free professional services that are there to help you adjust to preemie parenthood and keep you informed!

  • Stockpile diapers, soothers, etc provided by the NICU…we felt like chumps when we left and took half a pack of diapers with us and the nurse had to force us to take the soother V was using. Other parents had been stocking up for weeks and nobody cared…

  • Don’t compare your post-baby body to other NICU Mommies…you will only be depressed if you were whale-like like me!! However, I definitely applaud all of those who were able to fit back into their pre-pregnancy jeans by the time their bundles were discharged.

  • Beware of ‘student’ nurses and dr’s….they tend to want to do everything and get flustered easily…at least in our experience. Experienced nurses will let you do the diaper changes, hold the feeding syringe, and bathe your little one. Student nurses tend to take over, not maliciously, but because they want more practice and experience, which is definitely annoying when you’ve developed a solid routine of ‘doing it yourself’.

  • Take many, many, many pictures. Just because your baby isn’t at home doesn’t mean that you can’t wallpaper your Facebook page with adorable cuteness. Also you have more support than you know and others want to cheer right along with you when major milestones are met!

  • Encourage family visits so long as the visitors are healthy.

  • Ask about post-discharge support like feeding studies or pediatrician follow up. We got involved in an amazing nutrition study that lasted until V was 8 months old. The support I got from the dietician, lactation consultant and pediatrician involved was invaluable and fingers crossed that it becomes a regular support program for preemie mamas after the paper is released. V was actually the last graduate from the study (a whole other post I assure you) and a big fuss was made over him…how can you not be happy about that!

  • Get a good day-timer or app to keep track of your kid’s many many many appointments. There will be scheduled eye exams, physio, respiratory therapy and developmental appointments. You will want to be there for them!

  • Start a diary or blog to help you get your frustrations and worries out. I wish I’d actually started this while V was a patient rather than almost a year old!!

  • Wear comfortable clothing…the NICU isn’t a fashion show and the chairs are not comfortable. No one is going to judge you for bring back the university look of PJs in public at 2 in the afternoon…in fact they may tell you that they look comfortable and ask where you got them.

  • When meeting with the NICU dr. before delivery ask about the side effects of ANY medications they will be giving your child. If we ever do this again Andrew and I will hands-down decline surfactant unless it is 100% life-savingly necessary (which it wasn’t in V’s case).

  • Get a really really really good hand-cream. With all of the washing and sanitizing you will do as a NICU parent your hands will be so dry they will crack and bleed…true story.

  • Take some time to feel sorry for yourself…this situation sucks and you have the right to the occasional pity party…just don’t let the negativity overshadow all of the great progress your baby is making.

  • Spend your time at home ‘nesting’ if you can. Chances are that if you have a preemie you have absolutely nothing ready at home and the time spent in the NICU will allow you to get your act together. It will also help you feel closer to your child and more useful as a mother to fold tiny onesies and fight with your partner over crib construction.

As I mentioned before, I’m sure this list in incomplete and I sincerely hope that no-one needs to use any of these little pearls of wisdom, but I definitely do find some satisfaction in sharing my would-haves/should-haves with others. Wishing you all healthy, happy and NICU-free deliveries!!

Ps.  I should probably mention in the context of the info and experiences that we had…we live in Ontario and our healthcare experiences and costs are both public and covered by our provincial OHIP. I imagine that some of the general points will definitely apply to NICUs across the globe but in terms of appointments and specialists I’m not sure what is provided in other countries.

What better way to end a post than with adorable tiny baby feet? Squeeee! If this doesn't make you feel mushy inside you need to go and watch some sappy movies...


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