Every parent wants the best for their child. While that’s true whether or not you’ve had a NICU stay, that desire becomes even more intense if you have. Beginning your baby’s life with a medical crisis makes parents acutely aware of the curves life can throw you. While it’s painfully true that babies who have had a NICU stay are more likely to experience developmental delays and disabilities, there’s a lot you can do to increase the odds in your baby’s favor. Educating yourself and having a plan can make all the difference!
Here are five tips for helping your child achieve the best possible outcomes:
1. Get to Know Your Baby
Watch, listen to, and interact with your child. While all babies have similar needs – to be spoken to, held, and loved – they each have their own style. Learn who your baby is and what their preferences are. Do they crave a lot of stimulation and interaction? Do they prefer their quiet time? Remember, your baby is not the sum total of their diagnoses. Don’t listen to the labels. Take time to observe your baby and get to know the unique person that they are.
2. Appreciate How Resilient They Really Are
It’s hard to remember during the darkest days in the NICU but your baby is a survivor. It has taken a lot for them to get to where they are now. They have already done so much. And so have you. You have given them the best start you could, and now you’re going to do everything you can to set them up for success! Talk to the specialists. Get in touch with therapists. Schedule follow-up care. Start building the foundation that will lead to your child’s success. Soon you will be amazed by just how far your baby has come.
Milestones don’t happen overnight. One skill builds upon the next. Be patient. But also practice. You and your baby are in training. Mastery takes time, but every little step along the way is proof of the progress your child is making. Celebrate that! Don’t put off appreciating what your child can do!
They say that play is the real work of childhood. It’s true. A lot of really good therapy happens when we’re playing. Babies try out new skills, build strength, and work on their balance. But we learn so much more than that when we play. We try on new roles, explore possibilities, and develop a sense of who we are and what we can do.
5. Create a Community
Sometimes the real measure of success isn’t what you have or what you can do – it’s the connection that you feel to other people. It’s one of the ways we define ourselves: son, daughter, brother, sister, friend. Surround your child with people who care about them and are genuinely invested in your family’s happiness and well-being. It might take a little more planning to make it work but find ways to include your child in everything your family does. Those are the relationships that will make their life richer.
REMEMBER Your child’s capacity to experience happiness is not limited by their disability. Don’t let a diagnosis make you forget that every child can have a full, exciting, joyful life filled with family, friends, and new experiences. And that you’re the one who can make that happen!
If you’d like to meet families who have had a journey similar to your own, email support [at] handtohold [dot] org.
Did you find the information and resources here helpful? Please consider making a donation to Hand to Hold so that we can continue to educate and support NICU families.
Erika Goyer is hand to Hold’s Education Director. She is also the mother of three boys and the parent of a child with special developmental needs.