A traumatic birth and a NICU stay both place added pressure on relationships. Both partners may react to stress and grief very differently. Tending to and nourishing your relationship with your partner now will provide for a stronger foundation for your family as your NICU journey continues.
Here’s how partners can support one another while in the NICU. Download the printable version.
Make sure they get plenty of healthy food, water and rest. Many parents are surprised at how difficult it is to manage their own basic needs during a stressful time. Check in with one another to make sure these needs are being met.
If mom is pumping, take over labeling bottles, washing pump parts and keeping her hydrated. Pumping expends an amazing amount of energy from the body. Taking these small tasks off her plate is a small but effective way to help.
Give them a break from the bedside. Encourage your partner to get some fresh air, take a walk outside the hospital walls or simply take a break and grab a snack. While your baby is in good hands, consider a dinner or lunch away from the hospital and allow yourselves the opportunity to connect.
Talk openly about how you are feeling and coping. Being vulnerable with one another can be the key to solidifying your relationship. (Please note, there is profanity at very the end of the post linked here.)
For partners who need to be “doing” something, give them tasks. Have them read to baby, take photos, label and deliver milk or communicate with family with updates.
Encourage your partner to participate in care. Many NICU parents are apprehensive when it comes to participating in care for their fragile infants. Changing diapers, participating in kangaroo care and participating in feeding are important opportunities for both partners to bond with the baby. Make sure you each get the take advantage of these opportunities.
Understand that everyone has different coping mechanisms. No two people grieve or react to stress in the same ways. Talk to each other about how you are feeling and be honest about how each of you is coping.
Listen. Listen and empathize without attempting to give solutions or discourage negative feelings. Give them space to share.
Your partner may be feeling guilt. Reassure them that none of this is their fault. NICU parents, moms in particular, often harbor guilt about the premature birth of their child. Listen to their feelings, acknowledge their pain, and reassure them this is not the case.
Understand that your partner may feel increased pressure to provide and support the family financially. This is particularly true for partners who return to work or who serve as the “breadwinner” of the family. Additionally, distracting themselves with work may be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, a way for them to retain control over something when other things feel very out of control.
Be patient. Neither of you will get it right 100% of the time. But with communication, empathy and patience, your relationship is more equipped to survive the stress of a NICU stay.