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10 Tips For NICU Parents and Supporters

10 Tips For NICU Parents and Supporters

We only spent 7 days in the NICU, {read more about our experience here}, but we want to share some things we found helpful with parents of babies in the NICU as well as anyone looking to support these families.

For the Parents

1. Get To Know Your Nurses

Our main NICU nurse, Chelsey, confided that she had a baby in the NICU once upon a time. She took great care in teaching us how to read the monitors, walked us through every test and procedure, and encouraged me to nurse and hold Riley anytime. Skin to skin was always encouraged. It was incredibly comforting. Another NICU nurse, Donna, was originally from New York, and she was fantastic – very lively, hilarious, and most importantly, she loved Riley. The NICU nurses are not only taking care of your little bundle, but they are also taking care of you. I really believe NICU nurses are the strongest of souls. If for some reason a relationship with one of the nurses doesn’t click well, speak up to the charge nurse. You have enough on your plate. You don’t need to suffer through a strained NICU nurse relationship.

2. Sleep

All of our NICU nurses encouraged us to sleep. We didn’t take them up on it until a nurse, Michelle (the sweetest), nearly forced us out of the NICU to get rest. There is an intense, steady, irrational amount of guilt that comes with having a baby in the NICU, and those feelings surge when you leave the NICU to eat or rest. However, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Sleep. It’s the one perk of having your baby in the NICU. You’ve just been through a labor, delivery, and possibly a traumatic experience. Your body and mind need fuel. 

3. Eat

Let me say it again: You’ve just been through a labor, delivery, and possibly a traumatic experience. Your body and mind need fuel. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

4. Decorate

Riley’s first holiday fell while she was in the NICU, Valentine’s Day. Yes it’s a Hallmark holiday and no there really isn’t a point to it. But when you are stuck inside a windowless wing of babies-in-need and emotional parents, you celebrate everything from mastering the “suck, swallow, breathe” combo to Valentine’s Day. We decorated her corner, and bought little balloons for her neighbor-babies. We also put things in her corner from home: books, blankets, even burp cloths. A few weeks after Riley came home, we randomly ran into one of the NICU nurses, Magdalena, and she commented that every baby should have the lights that we hung up in Riley’s space. The lights she mentioned are still hanging over her changing table and she constantly stares at them. Anything to just make it feel more comfortable.

5. Treat Yourself

The nurses encouraged us to take a date night before Riley was discharged. Despite the fact that I felt disgusting and had no desire to be seen in public, one thing was certain: we needed to take a few moments to be together and process the crazy. Each night when the NICU nurses had a rotation change, we had to leave the NICU. I would sit in our room, pump and cry while we watched a movie. Something light- A Bee Movie, I think. I can’t say we really watched it, but it was on in the background and that made things just a little bit lighter. Once, we even went for a walk and took a selfie. It was a huge milestone. I remember not wanting to take the picture because Riley wasn’t in it, but looking back, I’m so glad we did. I ached for her, and I like to think that on that walk, Russell and I brought a little sunshine back to her.

6. Feel

Whatever it is you feel, feel it. Anger? Rage it out. Sad? Cry it out. Confused? Wonder it out. Guilt? Go ahead. Feel it. Feel every ounce of everything and then release it. I wish someone had told me this sooner. Instead, I spent my days trying to rationalize away all of these feelings during the shitstorm of hormones that is postpartum, when I should have just indulged and felt them. When I finally did (weeks later), I felt so much better. There is a lot of stigma around feeling unpleasant emotions.  There will be a time and a place to “focus on the good”, and it’ll come sooner if you accept the fact that the other emotions are okay too.

 For those of you who know parents with babies in the NICU, here are some tips for how to support them:

1. Be Like Nike and Just Do It

We received an outpouring of kindness from our friends and family. My dad texted every day and called nightly. Sometimes I responded, sometimes I didn’t. He didn’t mind either way – he just wanted me to know he cared. One of my best friends called and the first thing she said, even before hello, was “It’s ok. You can cry.” And I did. I just sobbed.  My Mother-In-Law came by the hospital nearly every day to gather our clothes and do laundry. She brought us a plethora of comfy clothes, air fresheners, and a framed picture of Riley to make our hospital room feel more comfortable. Our birth & newborn photographer, Caroline Colvin, brought us snacks, treats, lotions, magazines and comforted Russell when he, for the first time, put words to our experience while I nursed Riley. A group of our friends sent us a beautiful and delicious edible arrangement. Our days were spent holding Riley, pacing the 4x4 space we were allotted while she was hooked up to machines. We took her temperature, changed her diaper, read to her, sang to her, nursed her and cuddled her.  No one asked what they could do for us, they just did. Besides, if someone did ask, “what can we do?” the response would have been extremely unrealistic. After all “make this all unhappen” isn’t very reasonable, now, is it?

2. Empower Us

Friends and family loved receiving photos of Riley and never made sad remarks about how she was hooked up to monitors or looked miserable. Instead, they told us that she was strong and that we were strong. It was invaluable.

3. Be Judge-Free

There were also the people who weren’t so helpful. The random man in the cafeteria who criticized the food I was eating as I fought bottomless guilt leaving my baby to finally get some food only 4 days post partum. There were people who questioned our medical decisions based on their own fears. We are doing the best job we can. Leave it at that.

4. When It’s All Over, Be Patient As We Assimilate

It’s going to be emotional. We already would have been nervous about what could go wrong, and now we’ve seen how dark that can be. We know the risks first hand. Are we obsessive about you washing your hands? Allow it. Are we fragile? Be gentle. Oversensitive? Overprotective? You can’t believe we just spent how much money on an at-home pulse-ox {we sure did, and you can too – click here! Worth every penny!} ? This too shall pass, but we need a little time. Our new normal still needs some work. 

These are just a few of the things we thought of. Do you have anything else to add? Comment below to add your tips! 

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