The ABCs of the NICU: Surviving the first few days of your NICU stay

December 28, 2015

When we were pregnant with our first baby, we did all the things most couples do to prepare for her arrival. We cleared out a room, set up the crib and read dozens of pregnancy books. However, when my water broke seven weeks early, we were thrown into an unfamiliar world.

During pregnancy you learn the warning signs for preterm labor, but when you actually bring a preterm baby into the world, it is common to feel completely unprepared. Navigating those first few days can be very challenging. Here are a few things I learned from the early days of our NICU journey:

Ask Questions

While I was in labor, a neonatal doctor was sent down to our room to talk with my husband and I. He talked so quickly about so many things that we were left speechless. When it was finally time to visit our baby in the NICU, we were completely overwhelmed. Being first time parents, I think we were worried we would come off clueless, but we were! Luckily, my daughter had the kindest and most understanding nurse. She assured us that it was completely normal to be clueless about the medical information being thrown our way. She told us to ask questions as often as we needed to.

When you start your NICU journey, make sure to find out when the doctors are going to do their rounds and try to be present as often as you can. Write down any questions that you have so you don’t forget when you get your time with the doctor. And remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question!20130920_122021

Be involved

I was so heartbroken when I walked into the NICU and saw my daughter sucking on a pacifier. I cried when I heard the nurses talking about her first bath and realized I missed it. There were so many decisions and circumstances that I felt were out of my hands and I was her mother. I finally decided to ask the nurses, if I could be present for her next bath. They didn’t mind at all and even let me help. All I needed to do was communicate with the staff. The nurses always looked so busy that I felt bad about wanting to help with my daughter’s care or asking to hold her. However, as long as it is safe for your preemie, holding and caring for your child can actually help relax them. The nurses have the same goal as you do and want the best for your baby. So get on their team and be involved in your child’s care!

Care for yourself

When your baby is in the hospital, the rest of the world seems to stop. Your sole focus is on your baby and it is easy to forget about yourself. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, you eventually won’t be able to take care of your baby. Make sure you are eating and sleeping as normally as you can. Take frequent breaks from inside the neonatal unit and get some fresh air. I know it is hard to leave your baby, but even a few minutes will refresh your spirit and your mind. Your baby needs you at your best!

The first few days of your baby’s NICU stay can be scary, overwhelming, exhausting and confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you have them. Don’t be afraid to be involved with your child’s care. I will never forget watching my husband learn to change a diaper with his hands in an isolette and wires coming from all sides of our daughter. He was so nervous, but he is now the best diaper changer around! You and your preemie will come out of your NICU stay stronger and ready to take on the world!