As a parent, bringing your newborn home from the hospital for the first time is one of life’s great joys. But for some parents, this journey can take a little longer than expected. For those families who face a detour through the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) in the hospital, this experience can be emotionally overwhelming. Read on to learn how to best take care of your baby, and yourself, during this challenging period.
Bonding with your new baby
“One of the most important and all-around best ways to connect is by engaging in what’s called skin-to-skin holding or Kangaroo Care,” advises Sue Ludwig, OTR/L, President and Founder of the National Association of Neonatal Therapists (NANT). “This is when the parents hold their infant (who is dressed only in a diaper and sometimes a hat) against their bare chest and then cover them with a blanket, a wrap or their clothing. I’ve heard countless mothers report that participating in skin-to-skin holding was ‘the first time they felt like a mother’ as tears of relief and joy stream down their faces. It’s powerful. And it’s powerful not only as a bonding experience, but for many scientifically proven reasons such as improving sleep quality, decreasing stress, stabilizing body temperature regulation and enhancing the immune system. It’s also great for stimulating milk production for moms who are pumping and/or planning to breastfeed. Even the tiniest and most medically fragile babies can benefit from this practice when the NICU team is experienced in supporting this type of care.”
Helping to care for your little one
Even when a newborn is in the NICU, parents can take an active role in the everyday care of their baby. “With the support of nurses, neonatal therapists, and respiratory therapists, parents can change diapers, provide hands-on comfort during stressful times, feed their babies (via tube, breast and/or bottle depending on the baby’s age), read to them and hold them,” Ludwig says. “Once a bit ‘older’ and more stable, they may provide swaddled baths and neonatal massage. Parents can also take temperature readings and perform diaper changes. Pumping milk (if breastfeeding) and keeping up communication with the health care team are important activities as well.”
Caring for more than one
Some families may have twins or higher-order multiples in the NICU at the same time. Because multiples can often be born prematurely, parents may be aware early on that having their infants spend time in the NICU is a possibility. Multiples may find comfort being physically close to one another (if allowed by the health care team). Talk with your doctors and nurses to find out if this is something they feel would benefit your babies.
Tips for time in the NICU
Talk with your NICU team to learn how you can best interact with your baby without posing any outside risk. These tips are often suggested:
- Don’t be afraid to hold or touch your baby.
- Tape up pictures of loved ones inside the incubator.
- Take photos to have mementos of your newborn’s earliest beginnings.
- Keep a journal of your experiences.
- Consider saving your maternity leave for when your baby comes home.
- Be aware of signs of postpartum depression and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
- If you have other children, make special time to spend with them, too.
- Take care of yourself. Stay healthy and positive in order to be ready to take your baby home.
Reach out to other parents who have babies in the NICU too – they may able to understand your concerns more than anyone else. Also, check out websites like Sidelines National Support Network (www.sidelines.org) which provides support for families experiencing premature births. As well, the March of Dimes web site (http://share.marchofdimes.org/) allows you to learn from other parents who have gone through similar circumstances.
Having a baby, but not having them come home with you, is not how parents envision their first days as moms and dads. Remembering that your child is receiving the best possible care by their NICU team can help. And, when you can finally bring your infant home for the first time, their homecoming will be that more special.