Premature newborn  baby girl in the hospital incubator after c-section in 33 week

Your baby is in the NICU

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What do you do when there is a change in plans and your baby is in the NICU?

The plan:

You write out a four page birth plan. The hospital room will smell like lavender and you’ll be listening to forest sounds on your portable speaker. Immediately after baby enters the world you’ll put her to your chest and savor the skin to skin while she figures out how to make her way down to your nipple. Everyone is blissed out.

The reality:

Either your whole labor, or the moments after labor, become loud frenzied chaos. Nurses are shouting to doctors over the hum of machines. The smells and sounds are nothing like you had planned. You may not even be sure where your baby IS! Everyone is stressed out.
Nobody gets pregnant hoping that their baby ends up in the NICU. We all want that healthy pink full term baby that can come home with us. But that isn’t always nature’s plan. Thankfully we DO have NICUS- Neonatal Intensive Care Units- to save our babies that would struggle to survive on their own.
So while every parent should be able to plan for the best case scenario, it’s healthy to be aware of the alternative. Nobody can prepare for a NICU stay, but it can come as less of a shock if you know what to expect and how to best cope.

What you can do when your baby is in the NICU:

The best thing you can do is to ASK QUESTIONS! Ask if the hospital you are birthing at has a NICU, if it doesn’t ask what the plan would be to get your baby to another NICU, and how far away it would be. You may still be recovering at one hospital, while your baby is at another. Find out if there are accommodations for you if your baby is admitted, or if there are local places you can stay. Your baby may only be in the NICU for a very short stint and birthing parent and baby can be released at the same time! However, sometimes, especially for micropreemies, it can seem like quite the long haul. Knowledge is power, and comfort. Ask the doctors and nurses about the machines your baby may be on/in. Ask what interventions are being used.
If breastmilk is a viable option ask that you pump and supply your baby, or potentially even nurse your baby. NICU stays don’t have to destroy breastfeeding goals. It’s extremely important that the breastfeeding parent practice self care. Set a timer for every 2 hours, drink a bottle of water, have a snack and breathe intentionally while pumping. Some moms have luck listening to a podcast or watching a youtube video to get their mind off the situation. Stress has a big impact on supply. NICU babies can have fortified breastmilk [mix of bm and formula] and still get the benefits of their mother’s milk. If the whole ordeal is too stressful, it is okay to formula feed. It’s also possible to relactate after baby is home and healthy.
The hospital will handle taking care of your baby. You need to focus on taking care of you! Life doesn’t stop when baby is in the NICU. You may have other children at home that need you. A parent may need to return to work before the baby returns home. It’s a lot. You’re not alone. Find support groups, even just on facebook so you can vent while at your baby’s side. Know that it is OKAY to go home. It’s okay to get quality sleep. It’s okay to maintain some semblance of normalcy while your baby is being monitored 24/7 by a team of professionals.
This whole ordeal is going to be expensive. There’s no way around it. But your baby’s life is priceless, so try not to think too much about it while you’re in the trenches. And try not to skimp on purchases that can make your life easier. Order out that Thai food. Purchase the $6 latte at the hospital cafe. Hire a professional to help you navigate this difficult time. Or hire a sitter to watch your children at home. It’s okay to ask for help! People are often eager to help but unsure of what it is that you need.
Soon you’ll be home with your baby and this will all be just a traumatic memory! You’ve got this. Truly. But you don’t have to “got it” alone!

Karina McCarthy

A Rhode Island native who has babies in her blood. A mom to a beautiful daughter and a lover of yoga and long naps.