By Leigh G. Townsend MPA, NICU Family Support Navigator
Whether it is just for a few hours or a couple of months, having a baby in the NICU is an incredibly stressful event for parents. During this time it may be hard to think about taking care of yourself because you’re so focused on your baby’s needs. However, taking care of yourself, both physically and emotionally, helps ensure you stay well and have the energy to spend with your new baby.
Physical Health Tips:
- Moms, make sure you follow all directions from your medical team about your postpartum care. While your baby needs extra care, you are still recovering from childbirth. Take all medicines and keep all follow up appointments.
- All NICU caregivers need to eat and drink water on a regular basis. It helps to set alarms because caregivers often lose track of time while recovering and being in the NICU. A very helpful idea is to have family and friends send individually packed snacks and bottled water for quick nourishment while at the NICU and while recovering at home.
- Some ideas include: apple slices with peanut butter, juices, granola bars, sandwiches, popcorn, and pre-cut fruit and vegetables.
- It is very hard to sleep when your baby is in the NICU, but sleep is essential for good health. We recommend that NICU parents speak to the NICU social worker and/or your own medical provider if you are unable to sleep during your baby’s NICU stay. You will not sleep all night, but a good four hour stretch each night is helpful.
Mental Health Tips:
- Come to the NICU as much as you can. Get to know your baby. Help us learn about his or her patterns, likes, dislikes and communication. Let your baby hear your voice and feel your touch-they are comforting and familiar to your baby.
- Hold Your Baby. Holding your baby is some of the best medicine for baby and parents. Sometimes babies are too sick to be held, so ask the NICU staff how to provide healing touch. Holding a baby relieves anxiety for the baby and the parents, so skin to skin holding is always our goal when the baby is ready.
- Ask for Support. Woman’s is proud to offer the NICU Family Support Program including a NICU Family Support Navigator on staff to provide information and comfort to families during their NICU stay. Please take part in the activities provided and ask the NICU staff if you need more information.
- Understand Your Emotions. Please remember that every emotion you feel is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Having a baby in the NICU is very stressful for parents. Most parents of babies in the NICU feel many positive and negative feelings-even at the same time. This is because your heartfelt connection with your baby includes both joy and pain.
- Time Away. Allow yourself to leave your baby’s side when you can. While your baby needs you, it is also important to have time to yourself, with your partner, and with your other children. Also take time to do things you enjoy, like exercise. These restful breaks will help you find the strength to keep going. Woman’s has a one-mile walking path around the lake. Please use the path to get a breath of fresh air and get some exercise.
- Keep a journal. Expressing your feelings on paper can help you cope with your emotional changes. A journal also strengthens your hope and patience, by reminding you how far you and your baby have come.
- Vent your frustrations. If your baby has a setback, you may be plunged back into fear and anxiety. Voice your fears with your NICU team. We are here for you.
- Celebrate when you can. When your baby makes progress, it is okay to experience the joy. We love to celebrate baby’s developmental milestones and have many printed Milestone Cards to show off progress!
- Explore your spiritual side. It might be helpful to reflect and lean on your spiritual beliefs. You may find comfort talking with a pastor, priest, rabbi, minister, or imam. It is normal for a NICU experience to challenge your religious and spiritual beliefs; however, prayer, meditation, or quiet reflection can help you find emotional strength and hope during this challenging time. Woman’s has a chapel on the first floor near the cafeteria and we have chaplains that visit the NICU regularly.
- Accept the support of others, however difficult it may seem. Let people know how they can best help you.
- Accept that you and your partner or support person will react differently. Share your experiences and listen with empathy so that you can each feel supported and heard.
While these tips are a good starting point, many NICU parents need more. NICU parents often need to meet with their own medical provider(s) for postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety. Any major changes in your feelings or everyday life are worth exploring with your doctor or other healthcare professionals. If you find yourself needing additional support, ask your child’s NICU social worker for help finding the right option.
*Information provided by March of Dimes and Woman’s Hospital.