Isolation. Quarantine. While NICU parents are thrilled to have their babies home, life is not necessarily back to normal. If you come home close to or during cold, flu and RSV season, you’re likely facing these two words – isolation and quarantine – and looking ahead to months of being homebound.
Isolation may sound simple. Just don’t go anywhere! But it’s not that easy. The restrictions isolation places on families during RSV season can take not just a physical toll, but an emotional one as well.
We asked some veteran NICU parents for their best tips for enduring isolation during RSV season. What kept them sane? How did their daily routines change? How did they approach this sensitive topic with friends and family? Here are their answers.
Stay at home
Create a germ-free zone. Ask that any trusted visitors remove shoes, wash hands and use sanitizer upon entering your house. Make sure everyone knows that if they are sick or have been sick in the last week, your family must take the proper precautions, and that may mean not being allowed to visit. Print out this handy sign to hang on your front door and to email out to friends and family.
Take advantage of delivery and drive thru options. This is an advantageous time to live in, given all the grocery and meal delivery options: Instacart, Shipt, Favor, even Amazon Prime Now. Take advantage of these as much as you can! Have to get out? Take yourself through a drive thru for a quick meal or eat yourself to a drive thru coffee.
If friends and family want to bring you meals, seeing as you’ve recently come home from the NICU, place a cooler on your front porch for drop off. Then have them call or text you so you know to grab it from the cooler.
Go disposable. Consider using paper towels instead of hand towels after washing hands. It’s temporary and will help cut down on dish towel laundry.
If another family member gets sick, try keeping your NICU baby as separate as possible. Have your family wear face masks, or have your sick spouse sleep in a spare room or on the couch, so you can maintain a partial germ-free zone (and hopefully stay well yourself).
Go outside. Wait, we’re supposed to be at home, right? Yes! But if you’re going stir crazy, and you might, it’s okay to bundle your baby up (if it’s cold) and go for a walk around the neighborhood or at a nearby park, away from other people. Or put your baby in the car and go for a nice quiet drive and treat yourself to a drive thru coffee.
Get creative. Hand to Hold contributor Cheryl has some creative ways to stay sane during isolation.
Connect to the outside world
Find an online community. Stay connected with online parenting communities. Facebook is an easy place to find communities, both in your area or nationwide. Joining an online support community is a great way to connect with other NICU families and even make friends. If you’re in Texas, Hand to Hold has a private Texas NICU Families group on Facebook.
Do something for you. Find some time go get away to meet with a friend, work out, or just browse the aisles of Target for a while while your partner or a trusted (and healthy) babysitter holds down the fort.
Sara, mom to 28-weeker, Luna, would visit one set of grandparents to keep from getting cabin fever. Just make sure everyone in the house is healthy, and continue to wash hands and sanitize as much as possible!
If you must go out
Sometimes taking your baby out of the house is unavoidable. If you must go out, there are a few things you can do to ensure your baby stays safe from germs.
Go out during off-peak hours, when businesses are less populated. Look up your destination on Google to find out when it may be less busy.
Keep your baby covered. If you’re wearing your baby or have them in a carseat or stroller, keep them covered to deter well-meaning strangers.
Carry a well-stocked bag with your own pens, sanitizer, tissues and more. Taryn, mom to Lincoln, a 39-weeker who was born a rare genetic disorder that made breathing complicated for him, was adamant about using her own pens everywhere she went to try to keep unwanted germs away from her son.
Ask the pediatrician’s office for a separate waiting room. Many parents waited in their cars until their exam room was ready. Read more of our tips on visiting the pediatrician with a NICU grad.
Other words of encouragement
“Friends were extremely supportive, and at his first birthday was really when a lot of them met him. I truly think it was a hard time for me out of most because I didn’t have the adult interaction as much as I should have. I would have tried to venture out and leave my son with Daddy if I could go back.” – Taryn, mom to Lincoln, born at 39 weeks, 6 days. Lincoln has a rare genetic disorder that complicated his breathing.
“It was so hard, but when I look back, it was so worth it to keep him healthy.” – Sandi, mom to Luna, born at 24 weeks. Luna spent 128 days in the NICU.
“We made the best of every holiday celebration, even though it did not look like what I might have expected. We decorated, dressed her up and found the joy in these moments, although they were often times spent without extended family.” – Jennifer Hayhurst, Hand to Hold Development Director and mom to Evie, born at 25 weeks. Jennifer and her family kept Evie in isolation until age two.
“Once the season passed and we ventured out more, I had to remind people to back up, they were too close and no touching! I still do that to this day!” – Shawna, mom to Ella, born at 30 weeks, 5 days.
Parents, you can do this! Isolation isn’t easy, but every parent who has endured it said it was worth it to keep their child healthy. For the most part, your friends and family will understand, and this time you will spend in isolation is only temporary. But for now, let these tips and suggestions help keep you sane while you keep your child safe from germs.