new born baby

5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Having A Baby In The NICU

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Lolo in NICUHaving your newborn spend time in the neonatal intensive-care unit is often unexpected and very upsetting. I learned a lot in my time as a NICU parent, but there are a few things I desperately wish someone had told me beforehand.

My twin sons were born unexpectedly at thirty-three weeks.They weighed four and a half and just over five pounds respectively, and had some minor breathing issues which required them to spend some time in the NICU before coming home. While I am very fortunate that their stay in the NICU was relatively quick, it was not at all the way I had envisioned leaving the hospital after giving birth. These are the things I wish a fellow NICU parent had told me at the start of my journey.

1. Check your hospital’s policy on visitors. My twins were born in the dead of winter during a particularly bad flu season, so our hospital had a strict policy regarding visitors- no children under sixteen (yes, even siblings) and only one visitor at a time. I completely understood and appreciated the need to protect the babies, but I wish I had known the rules before my sorority sisters showed up in full force and had to take turns waiting.

2. You can bring items from home for the baby. Post-partum hormones are brutal and when you combine them with the pain of recovering from a c-section and the stress having babies that can’t come home with you, it’s a recipe for tears. For days I felt like there was nothing I could do for my babies, until a nurse told me I could bring items from home to the hospital. Having clothes, blankets and a small stuffed animal that I had personally picked out for them helped me feel more like they were “my” babies and gave me a small measure of control over an otherwise overwhelming situation.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can interact with your baby. Because of still developing nervous systems or ongoing medical treatments, you may not be able to hold you baby very often or at all. This doesn’t mean you can’t be involved with her care. I remember the first time a nurse asked me if I wanted to change my son’s diaper and I was so grateful for the opportunity that I started sobbing (those pregnancy hormones are no joke). She told me she assumed I didn’t want to because I hadn’t said anything, I told her I hadn’t asked because I didn’t want to hurt him or interfere with her job. Lesson learned. Once I asked, there were lots of ways I was able to interact with my babies. I helped with daily weight checks, held them during bedding changes, cleaned their tubes and took their temperature. Not only did doing these tasks help me bond with my babies, they also gave me confidence that I could care for them on my own when the time came.

4. Ignore the monitors. I am an anxious person to begin with and having my sons in the NICU made my anxiety even worse. It is very scary when a machine that is attached to your child starts to sound an alarm. I became so fixated on the monitors that I found myself spending most of my time staring at the ever changing numbers and willing them to improve or stay in the safe zone. A very kind nurse saw me doing this several days in a row, and in an act of tough love, turned the monitors away from my sight and gave me some golden advice: Don’t focus on the monitors, focus on you baby. The monitors help the nurses and doctors know if something is wrong, but with such small babies, the sensors can and do misfire. If the baby is breathing and has good color, then there is nothing to worry about. When the baby comes home you will only have your senses to alert you to any potential problems so you may as well get used to using them now.

5. As difficult as it is, it’s not forever. As hard as it was to walk out those hospital doors and leave my babies behind, I found comfort in knowing that they were in the best place they could be getting the care they needed. If you ever find yourself with a child in the NICU, know that the time will pass and one day you will look back and marvel at all your child overcame to make to where they are today.

(Image: Author’s own)