Milestones Are Even More Stressful When You Have A NICU Baby

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NICU babyThey call it graduation. Our nurses gave us a bag with a certificate festooned in teddy bears and a copy of The Little Engine That Could, other NICU units go so far as to dress the babies in tiny regalia, complete with mortar boards. But even though finally getting to walk out those hospital doors with your baby in your arms feels like the end of the book, it’s really just the close of the chapter.

Even if you’re luck enough to leave the NICU without follow up visits with specialists or occupational therapists on the horizon, it can be hard to know if your baby’s development is normal. My twins were born at 33 weeks, almost two months ahead of schedule. A scare at 27 weeks resulted in my getting steroid shots to develop their lungs, but one twin was kept in the NICU for about a week for jaundice treatments and to gain weight (at just over 4 1/2 lbs when we came home I was terrified of breaking him). His brother struggled a bit more. He needed continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for about a week due to lung immaturity and his own case of jaundice. He came home from the NICU after two weeks, with a heart abnormality that thankfully self-resolved by the time he was six months old.

But despite their relative health, my children’s early entry into the world follows them around like a shadow. They’re small for their age, so people often express surprise when they learn how old they are (though being able to keep them in the same wardrobe for two years has been great for the family finances).When my friends with babies of the same age were running, my kids were still content to crawl. When other kids were pointing out things that interested them, mine were staring into space.I spent countless hours online trying to determine if they are were within the realm of “normal” or if their delay meant something wasn’t right.

Right now we are having similar issues with language. I’m not jealous that my niece who’s a few weeks younger or my best friend’s son who’s a few months younger speak more clearly and say more words. I know that kids develop at their own pace and it’s not about wanting to keep up with the Joneses or because I want a reason to brag on Facebook. It’s the worry that instead of when will they talk, what if they don’t talk ever.

Every time my children fail to meet a milestone, I try to hold off until we reach their adjusted age (determining age by due date, not birth date) to see if they are still behind before checking in with the doctor, and even he admits he’s not always sure when something is atypical or when a child just needs more time to develop a skill. But for that seven week period, I worry. Research suggests that most preemies will catch up with their peers by early adolescence, and the pediatrician also assures me that most kids are caught up by first grade at the latest. But with more and more research being done about the benefits of early intervention with developmental delays it’s difficult to know when to have patience and when to act.

(image: Dmitry Kalinovsky/