10 Things To Know About the NICU
Last week my friend Randi and I got the opportunity to be a part of the new NICU parent support group at the hospital where both of our babies spent the first 4months of their lives. I was so excited and it was such a good time, and it got me to thinking about how grateful I would've been if something like that was there while we were in the NICU.
Since leaving the NICU I've been able to interact with many other preemie moms who are still in or just left the NICU and I always get asked how'd I do it, what did I learn/what can I tell them about NICU life. Oftentimes hospitals don't offer support groups or if they do, it may be uncomfortable to be so transparent in front of strangers. I know that feeling; I didn't share our journey until we were out of the NICU and still it was hard for me. So I decided to come up with my own list of things I learned while in the NICU, for the moms just starting out or the mamas that aren't yet comfortable sharing and asking questions.
1. Its Not Your Fault
I know for me, I immediately blamed myself for going into preterm labor. I thought about all the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, I felt like I did something wrong. I didn't. You didn't. Don't allow that negative thinking to take place because it isn't your fault. Instead of focusing on the negative, use that same energy to be there for your baby.
2. Have Faith
Or positive vibes, affirmations, pray, meditate, whatever you choose that gets you in the right headspace. This was IMPERITIVE for me. When my attitude was negative or I was stressed, DJ could sense it. I had to believe that everything would work out the way it was supposed to and I was equipped to deal with whatever was coming our way.
3. Feel All The Feelings
With that being said, you're human. On the days you feel like crying, cry. You're angry one day, that's okay. Allow yourself to go through those emotions just don't stay there. This isn't easy and you have to do your best to get through it, that means allowing yourself to go through the different feeling to get to being okay.
4. It Really Is A Rollercoaster
I don't know if every hospital uses that phrase, but it really is true. The first time I was there for rounds, the medical staff warned me that it was going to be a "three steps forward, two steps back" type of thing and it was true. One day DJ would be making huge strides left and right then the next day he'd get pneumonia. Or he would brady (his heart would slow down because he stopped breathing) every hour on the hour. Then two days later he was allowing them to wean his ventilator. Whatever happens during you and your baby's stay in the NICU, know that their will be good days and bad days. Celebrate the small victories and don't let the defeats get you too down.
5. Donor Milk, Breastmilk, No Milk
I was fortunate enough to have a really good supply after DJ was born (we had to purchase a deep freezer because I was running out of space at home and the hospital for frozen milk. Just call me Betsy! lol) But oftentimes some moms whose babies are extremely premature have a hard time producing milk in the beginning. That's where donor milk comes in. Hospitals will give you the option to feed your baby donor milk until you produce some of your own. Some mothers don't ever produce any milk. Or the stress of a premature delivery and NICU stay effects your production. I brought DJ home by myself and I couldn't keep up so I stopped and switched to formula. I cried and felt so bad but a NICU nurse told me this, "I didn't breastfeed my two sons at all and they're fine. You gave him what you could when he needed it most. Formula is okay."
6. Talk With Your Significant Other
After I had DJ the focus was on he and I. I don't think I remember anyone ever stopping to ask my husband how he felt. I was scared to ask him. I was afraid that he resented me and was angry at me. Discussing this with my other preemie mama friends, their sentiments were somewhat the same. When we finally opened up to each other, I realized how much this impacted him as well. Make sure to keep the lines of communication between you two open. This leaves your focus to be on the health of your child. The NICU is hard enough as it is, you'll appreciate having your person in your corner.
7. Get To Know The NICU Staff
My mom was on first name basis with everyone at the front desk hours after DJ was born. The more comfortable I got, the more I began talking with the staff and knowing them by name. These are the people that spend the most time with your baby and you want to get acquainted with them. Our hospital did primary nursing, so certain nurses would always have DJ when they came in for their shift, which is a godsend. Being that they're always with him, they knew him and vice versa. They were able to tell the rotating doctors when something was "off" with him or when he was acting his normal feisty self. I trusted them completely and dubbed them his "NICU Mommies" Its so important to create genuine relationships with the people that are spending the majority time with your baby.
8. Be Patient
The hardest thing to do! There were times I wanted to just unplug DJ and wheel him out and go home. But the reality was that his health and future were at stake, and he was exactly where he needed to be at that time. I had to tell myself that he was doing the best that he could and we were expecting his little body to do things it was nowhere near ready to do. He was going to need time and if it took him a little while, that was okay. I had to trust that when the time came to go, they would tell me...and they did and we ran out of there scared and excited! lol
9. Get To Know Other NICU Parents
Being in the NICU can be a very scary and stressful time. Most of the time I was so focused on seeing DJ and listening to what the doctors had to say, I didn't even think about interacting with other moms. When DJs primary offered introducing me to Randi, it was like a breath of fresh air to be able to talk to someone who knew exactly what I was going through and could relate. That's why the support groups are so important. It allows parents to get together outside of the NICU to vent, cry, encourage one another as well as support each other during tough time; all the while not having to be too far from your baby's bedside. This also creates chances to create lifelong friendships not only for you but your baby as well. If your hospital doesn't have a support group, try social media like FB or IG. Use hashtags to find other parents who are going through similar situations.
10. This Is Your Baby
Regardless of the situation, this is still your baby. You are also your baby's advocate. Ask questions, if there's something you don't understand, have them explain it further. Speak up for them when you feel like something isn't right. Hold them, when you cant, sing to them, or just sit by the bedside. Visit as often as you can for as long as you can. Get to know your baby so they can get to know you. This isn't the traditional way of bonding, but when you're in the NICU you have to get a little creative. I used to be afraid to change DJs diaper when he was teeny tiny until one day another one of his primaries made me. She said, "No, this is your baby. When you take him home you will be the one to care for him." She was right. No one should know your baby better than you by the time its ready to go home.
I know its long (are you guys really surprised at the length though, have you seen my IG captions? lol) but I really hope it helps you mamas (and dads) who have to or are going through the NICU. I know its hard but you can do this. You got this.
That its! Did I miss anything? If you've gone through the NICU before, what would you add? Comment below or DM on Instagram.
Until next time!