I thought it was the end of the world when my little one was born 8 weeks early. How could my body fail me? I thought I would deliver somewhere past the 40 week mark, not be rushed into emergency surgery at 32 weeks. My tiny preemie princess was so little, so fragile, and had to stay in the NICU for five weeks.
Having a baby in the hospital is hard at the best of times, but when they are so brand new it can be excruciating. Every mom is different, and every baby is different, but here are some tips to help you get through your time in the NICU.
Ask all your questions
What does it mean when the alarm goes off? What do each of those wires and tubes do? How much is the baby eating? When do they do weigh ins? The questions will come often, and don’t be afraid to ask. The NICU nurses are some of the most amazing people on this planet, but they are often so used to the jargon that they forget to explain everything. Feel free to ask, and ask again if you forget. The more you know about what’s going on, the more relaxed you can be.
Visit however often works for you
I knew I wanted to breast feed, which meant I did a lot of Kangaroo time with my little one. But she also needed her rest. I learned after a while that there really wasn’t that much that I could do, so I would usually visit for a couple hours in the morning and that was it. Other moms seemed to camp out at the hospital and be there all day, while others came even less frequently than I did. There is no right way to parent a baby in the NICU – do whatever feels right for you.
Celebrate the tiniest victories
Did your baby take a feed with a bottle or boob instead of a feeding tube? Celebrate! Did they gain even the smallest amount of weight? Celebrate! Did you make eye contact for the first time? Celebrate! Even the smallest steps are a big deal, so celebrate every one of them.
Mine the nurses for all their info, but don’t treat it as gospel
The NICU nurses taught me how to take care of my tiny princess. They taught me how to change her nappy, how to feed her, how to bathe her, how to swaddle her. They were amazing and patient and happy to show me everything that I’d need to know. But when we got home, the routine of feeding and changing Harley every 3 hours just didn’t work, and the amounts they were feeding her simply weren’t enough. Oh, and she hated to be swaddled. But I still change her nappy the way that they showed me, and I still rely on the various bits of advice that they offered. So learn as much as you can from them, but realize that your baby will be different when you get home than they are in the NICU.
Take care of yourself
This is possibly the hardest one. I was so determined to be there for my baby, to focus on pumping and whatever else I could do to take care of her that I easily forgot about myself. The nurses would often tell me to relax, to take time for myself, and it’s the most important advice. Go recuperate from childbirth, however it happened. Go heal, rest and spend time with your family. Once your baby comes home, there will be even less time to take care of yourself, so use this time as best as you can to do whatever is necessary to be kind to yourself.
Remember that this is temporary
The five weeks my little one was in NICU were the longest of my life. But then, all of a sudden, she was home. Then those first 6 weeks at home seemed to last forever as we all got used to each other. And then, she was suddenly almost a year old. The time in the NICU is so hard, but it will end. Talk to other moms who have been through it, see their healthy, happy grown up babies. It helps to remember that this isn’t forever.
From the editor: Thank you so much to Zoe for sharing these hard-won lessons on World Prematurity Day. We are so very happy that the beautiful Harley is here proving that, not only can you survive the NICU, you can get out there and thrive. We are honoured to have you on our team!