This top ten “Things I wish I’d know about NICU” has been compiled with the help of parents of babies born too soon. If you are on a neonatal unit, know that you are not alone and there is a great network of support out there for you.
Know that you are not alone. Other mothers of babies born too soon feel the same as you do. Reach out to them on the unit or seek support from organisations such as Bliss who have a network of volunteers who run local support groups once you are home.
NICU will become your home, don’t set timescales. It is impossible to predict when your baby will be going home and by doing so you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. Babies are usually discharged around their due date, but this varies enormously according to individual needs. Again, take each day, day-by-day.
Mums know best! You know your baby better than anyone – that’s what mums do. You see their progress and are there when they take steps back. You see everyday what is working for your baby and what is not. Never be afraid to add your comments or to question plans. Plans sometimes change simply because things have not been handed over from one shift to another. Be mum and become your babies best advocate!
It’s okay if there isn’t that instant connection with your baby. Premature births are often sudden and traumatic. You may have been unwell yourself and still recovering. Know that bonding with a baby taken away minutes after birth can be difficult – it’s okay. Kangaroo Care as well as helping with cares such as washing, dressing and changing nappies can all help with bonding.
NICU rules – each neonatal unit will have their own set of rules. For example rules around visiting times, ward round etiquette and who may come to visit your new-born. I once saw a mum being ‘told off’ by the ward matron – her mother (the babies grandmother) was holding her baby. She explained it was unit rules for only parents to hold their babies and understandably both mum and grandmother were upset. Knowing the ‘do’s & don’ts’ of the unit can help you to avoid upsetting or awkward situations – but remember, rules are also made to be broken! For example, knowing this rule I was then able to ask the nurse in charge the following day – very nicely of course – if my own mother, who had been visiting the unit twice a week for seven weeks, could have a cuddle with her grandchild. She was allowed. So, know the rules, but also know that sometimes if you ask nicely the rules may be broken!
Look after yourself. You may be here a while and your baby will be counting on you. The everyday routine of being a NICU mum can be exhausting and seem never-ending. Take some time for yourself and it will see you through the difficult days. Ask family and friends to help with the practical things – see our Top Ten ways for family and friends to help here!
Enjoy and remember the precious moments. In amongst the turbulent ride of NICU stop to notice and remember – a tiny hand griping your finger, the first time you hear them make a sound, the way they move, the way they snuggle into your chest, their smell. Don’t let the noise of NICU drown out these precious early moments.
If this list has helped you – please share to help someone else in NICU #smallestthings