Expert NICU Tips: Navigating the Journey with Your Newborn
Having a baby in the NICU is a heart-wrenching and exhausting experience that no family anticipates when they discover they have a little one on the way.
Having a baby in the NICU is a heart-wrenching and exhausting experience that no family
anticipates when they discover they have a little one on the way. Typical expectations and
milestones must change, but we have the expertise to help you navigate your baby’s NICU stay
and the physical and emotional stress that can come with it.
We will learn to reframe expectations.
Typical firsts and baby milestones will look different. The first feeding might be a bottle, or it might be through a feeding tube. And sometimes, when they’re very premature, it might be a drop of milk swabbed around inside the baby’s mouth. The first time you hold them might be skin to skin on your chest or your hands through the holes of the isolette gently containing their head and feet. Then there’s being able to breathe without an endotracheal tube or nasal cannula, moving from an isolette to a crib, removing a feeding tube and taking every feed from a bottle, gaining an ounce, and so many more firsts.
These early milestones may look different than expected, but they are exciting and powerful and deserve to be celebrated big!
Ask how you can be involved in your baby’s care.
First, participate in patient rounds. Find out what time the team of providers makes rounds so you can know about everything going on with your baby, ask any questions you have, and share your concerns. Second, depending on your baby’s current condition, you can participate in their physical care in many ways. Your nurses will happily educate you on feeding techniques, taking temperatures, changing diapers, and kangaroo care (skin-to-skin contact) while navigating all the wires, feeding tubes, monitors, and more. The NICU can feel overwhelming and like you’ve lost your role as the parent. Being involved in the day-to-day care and decision-making process is a way to regain control. Your baby’s care team loves to see you involved and knowledgeable, and you can be a great advocate for your baby throughout their stay.
Don’t camp out in the hospital 24/7.
One of the best ways to take care of your baby is to bring the healthiest version of you back to them so that you have the energy and mental clarity you need. Once you’re discharged from postpartum, make time to go home, eat nourishing meals, shower, and sleep in your own bed. Do something for yourself and spend time with loved ones. This isn’t a selfish decision- it’s necessary to ground yourself outside hospital life. Don’t worry. Your little one has a world-class team caring for them while you step away!
Personalize your baby’s space in the NICU.
If your NICU’s policies allow it, bring sheets, blankets, photos, and clothes from home to make your baby’s space feel more cozy. Many moms pin a small piece of fabric inside their shirt all day and then leave it inside the baby’s isolette so that your baby has mom’s scent nearby- some moms even place a few drops of breastmilk on it. A sweet way for your baby to feel your presence when you can’t be there. And speaking of breastmilk…
Take advantage of lactation support.
Request time with the team of lactation consultants that make rounds to NICU parents. And use that powerful hospital-grade breast pump! Most units will allow you to pump right at the bedside. Even if your baby isn’t developmentally ready to latch, your liquid gold can be given to them through a feeding tube or frozen until it’s ready for use.
Find your support and accept help.
No one anticipates a NICU journey when they find out they’re pregnant- it’s healthy and necessary to process the change and grief that come along with this experience. Fear, sadness, love, overwhelm, anger, guilt, helplessness, and more. Talk about your feelings to your family, friends, nurses, fellow NICU parents, a therapist, a support group, journal it, or whatever would be most helpful and available to you. (Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good cry). Say YES to loved ones who offer to cook meals, send gift cards, transport you to the hospital and back, help with your other children or pets, clean
your house, and more.
Make a list.
Make a list of things you would like to bring along for the days spent at the bedside. Comfy layers to wear
in the unit that provide easy access for kangaroo care and breastfeeding, if applicable. Water,
chapstick, something to read, pumping bra, blanket, snacks, chargers, favorite snacks, nursing
pillow, just to name a few.
Prepare for the transition home from the NICU.
Some babies go home from the NICU with oxygen needs, feeding tubes, and/or physical and occupational therapy requirements. It can feel overwhelming to imagine managing those at home without your trusted hospital team there to help or oversee. Consider adding a Moms on Call Consultant to your personal care team as you navigate another big transition! We can help customize daily schedules around therapy times, provide bottle and breastfeeding tips, advise on toddler siblings’ behavior and sleep as they are making this transition, and answer any other questions and concerns.
A NICU stay is an emotional and physical rollercoaster of triumphs and setbacks. Process your
grief, show yourself grace, be as involved as possible in baby’s care but make plenty of time to
be good to yourself as well (this is vital!), utilize every support available to you, and most of all-
find moments of joy in this difficult season. Whether your NICU stay is 2 or 20, or 200 days, you
and your little warrior will walk out transformed with powerful new strength, wisdom, and a sense of thankfulness as you understand what really matters in life. Be on the lookout- daily miracles are happening around you in the NICU. Deep breath and keep that head up. You’re never alone in this journey.
Kaycee Rountree is a Certified Pediatric Nurse and certified Moms on Call Infant and Toddler Consultant. She is located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with her husband and three incredibly fun and active children!
The Moms on Call methodology is what guided her through the season of growing her family by three babes in three years. Now it is her passion as a registered nurse and MOC consultant to support and encourage other families to be confident in their parenting decisions amid infant and toddler chaos.
“Whatever the age or stage, I will work with you to develop a personalized approach, creating the best feeding and sleeping foundation for your little one. I can’t wait to support and empower you in your parenting adventure!”