From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I dreamed of the day when I would get to bring my baby home and welcome him as part of our family. I never imagined that my sweet baby boy would come prematurely, or that I would have pregnancy complications, or that I would have an emergency C-section, or that my baby would be in the NICU and not come home with me from the hospital.
As I was wheeled into the operating room at 3am in preparation for my son’s birth, the NICU nurses and pediatricians were already there, waiting. As soon as Jude was born, one of the nurses took him and briefly showed me his face as they whisked him straight to the NICU. Not what I had planned AT ALL.
I knew nothing about the NICU or premature babies (or C-sections). I was thankful to have a friend who had traveled this road before me to talk to, but not everyone has that opportunity. So here are some tips for you fellow NICU mamas based on my experience. Keep in mind though, every baby and situation is different. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
One of the hardest parts is not being able to hold your newborn all day long whenever you want.
For many NICU babies, breastfeeding is often difficult (or not possible until they are older). But the hardest thing for me was leaving my baby at the hospital once I had been discharged. But take heart, mama- the staff in the NICU is there for YOUR baby and they will continue to care for your darling in ways you can’t. It will be very hard to see the positive in leaving your baby in your hormonal and emotional state, but it is for your baby’s good.
Get REST, drink water, and eat well.
There were checkups for my son every three hours, around the clock. Pick a few checkups during the day to attend. Find out when the pediatrician is going to make the rounds. You don’t need to tire yourself out by being there each time.
Prepare your family and friends.
Come up with a plan on how to handle visitors. Most NICUs will only allow two people to visit the baby at a time, and they will probably ask that you don’t hold your baby every time. Your baby will also have a much weaker immune system. The most common question I received was “When does he get to come home?” I made my automatic response, “When he decides he is ready to!”
Let your friends and family help!
Let them bring you meals, clean your house, and help with laundry. If people want to buy preemie clothes, ask for ones that snap so the wires that attach to the different monitors can slip through easily. (Make sure they don’t have foot coverings, since there will most likely be a monitor attached to baby’s foot.) Accepting help does not mean you are weak. Be encouraged by the helping hands.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
Whether you had a vaginal birth or C section, you need to heal. If you are planning on breastfeeding, you will most likely need to get on a pumping schedule. (I rented the hospital grade breast pump and it was totally worth it.) Once your baby is able to latch and attempt breastfeeding, don’t get discouraged if it is very slow at the beginning (or if your baby decides that the bottle is the only way to get food quickly). Utilize the lactation consultants at your hospital. And don’t set unrealistic expectations for your baby either. For the first year of life, your preemie baby will be measured according to his or her gestational age. Enjoy the time you have with that teeny tiny baby, because trust me, time flies!