Communicating With Your Baby’s NICU Care Team
Good communication is important all the time, but it is vitally important when your baby is in the NICU.
While having a baby in the NICU is stressful, it seems even worse if you don’t feel like you understand what is going on. Fortunately, the NICU staff is here to help. With the right support, you can learn to navigate the NICU and become a strong, capable and informed advocate for your baby.
By learning the skills you need to communicate clearly and effectively with your baby’s care team, you will build strong relationships based on mutual respect and trust – and your baby will benefit. These tips will help you talk to your baby’s care team.
Be prepared to ask a lot of questions about your baby’s care. You
may want to write questions down as you think of them. Ask for help learning what the medical words and abbreviations mean. Sometimes, when you are being told a lot of information all at once, it can be confusing and it can be easy to forget. Try keeping a notebook of important information. Then you can look at it later and think about it. You can also write down the names of everyone caring for your infant. It will help you remember who they are.
Make sure you understand
As a parent, it is your right to have your questions answered. However, it is so important that you understand what they tell you. A good way to do this is to ask the doctor or nurse if you can repeat back what you heard. This can
prevent many misunderstandings.
Be a part of the team
While the doctors and nurses provide the highly specialized care your baby needs, as a parent, you are the most important person in your baby’s world. Be there for your baby and help with their care.
Learn all you can about your baby’s condition. Not only is it important for your baby, it shows the medical team that you are ready to assist in your baby’s care. When you can’t be there, call and ask for updates. The doctors and nurses will welcome you as an important member of the team the more they see you and talk to you.
Be respectful of the rules and routines in the NICU. These rules and routines are based on best practice standards in the NICU, and they are in place to help your baby. Likewise, you should expect the respect of the NICU staff in return. When you make a request, it should be acknowledged with an appropriate response.
Be respectful of the other families around you. Their needs may be different from yours, but they also deserve respect while in the NICU.
As your baby’s condition is continually changing, the routine and care that worked yesterday may not work today. Be flexible and open-minded as your baby’s care needs change. Remember that you are part of a larger NICU community of parents who are also asked to be flexible.
Ask to review your baby’s medical record
You are entitled to your child’s medical information, but most hospitals have policies about looking at the chart while the baby is in the hospital. You can make requests to look at their chart at any time, but it is always best to sit down and do it together with your baby’s doctor. They will be able to help you understand what is in there and what it means. Looking at it together will open the lines of communication and build trust between you and your baby’s medical team. After your baby is discharged, you can get a copy of the medical record by requesting it from the hospital’s Medical Records Department.
Learn how to be a problem solver
When there are problems, be prepared to offer solutions. For example, if something has happened that you are worried about, talk to the doctor, nurse practitioner, charge nurse or nurse. Explain your concerns and give suggestions that might make the situation better.
Tackle breakdowns in communication
If there is a problem you need to talk about, seek out the charge nurse, then the manager of the unit, and then the director of the unit until you find someone who will listen. Explain the problem as calmly and clearly as possible and ask for help. The person in charge can help you talk to the person you are having a problem with and fix things.
Be patient with your baby, the medical team and – most of all – yourself! Sometimes things get better very slowly. Sometimes things might get worse before they get better. Remember that the medical team is doing everything possible to help your baby improve, but it takes time. During your baby’s NICU journey, look for strength and support in the people around you.
Being grateful is probably the last thing on your mind. Nobody expects to be in the NICU, but it is the best place for your baby right now. Try to find something good in each day – an improvement in your baby’s condition, a helpful explanation from the doctor, the caring touch of a nurse, or the friend who brought your family a meal. A grateful attitude will help you on this journey, even on the worst days.
Talk to someone
It’s okay to feel sad, scared and disappointed. Talk to someone. Talking about your feelings helps you come to terms with the situation and allows you to look for something, no matter how small, to be grateful for. See the Get Support box for how Hand to Hold can support you.