NICU LIFE, A WHOLE NEW WORLD
The NICU world is just a separate entity, until you walk through those doors you will never quite understand it. Anything and everything come into the NICU, think of it as an ER.
Some mums have an understanding that they will deliver early due to her health or the baby's. Others have a good pregnancy and then the baby is struggling with low sugars or trouble breathing. There is never a guarantee, even when you try to do every right in the pregnancy, things happen but the NICU is ready. The NICU is a roller coaster ride, and you are on it!
In the NICU, parents feel like they have lost control but please know the NICU TEAM (nurses, doctors, therapist) will all try to incorporate the parents as best as possible. Starting from simply just placing your hands on the infant for hand hugs and calming or holding a paci in place for the baby. As the baby becomes more stable, the nurses will encourage more participation from the parents.
Dr Google is never your friend in the NICU, it gives you any and every scenario and it will be overwhelming. Ask good questions, I often tell parents to write down their questions, so they don't forget, especially if the discussion goes into a long tangent.
What mums can do? Pumping if at all possible is a must especially in the beginning for the baby. This is also exhausting but will keep mums focused and is something she can control. The colostrum has tons of immunity from the mum, even drops can be placed on a Qtip for oral care. If mums cannot pump then donor milk will be provided from the milk bank if the baby qualifies with gestational age, size and diagnosis. Also, focusing on eating, drinking and resting so you can recover well are very important.
What can dad/significant other/support person do? You will be the mother's strength that she needs, keeping her on track for eating, drinking, resting and helping with washing the pumping parts if she is pumping.
What can you do together? Support each other, pace yourselves with visiting the NICU as you are both exhausted. Time stops in the NICU, and you will not realize how long you have been there and how tiring it is until you leave. The days/nights will blend together, and time will get away from you quickly. When you are home, time is fast, and you will struggle with getting things completed. Bring water bottles and snacks in your bag as you will forget to eat. Most NICUs will allow water at bedside but food and snacks are for outside the unit.
What can friends and family do? They can support by making meals, helping with the other siblings if any, taking care of the fur babies, helping with housework and any chores.
When you are at the bedside, the nurse will teach you things, such as hand hugs, taking temp and BP, changing the diaper, bottle feeding and also breastfeeding. As you visit your baby or babies, you will learn the monitors and what they mean and also learn what your baby's ques mean. Kangaroo care (skin to skin) is usually the best part of the day for parents. Babies do not have enough body fat to regulate temp so skin to skin helps with that. It helps with milk supply and is very relaxing for the baby and the parent. Please know as soon as the baby is stable, it will be allowed. Mothers are usually the first to hold unless it is requested differently. Usually, it's once a day and then progresses to twice a day, so you would add a hold time in the evening. Coordinating usually around touch times/feed times. So, helping with cares, oral care, temp and diaper changes then straight to kangaroo care with feeding started. Kangaroo care is a minimum of an hour, so take your pain meds, eat and go to the bathroom before. It is a lot of activity to move the baby and if the baby is doing well and having no issues can be held up until the next feed time. So, parents can help with cares when baby is put back in incubator also.
Daily updates in the NICU are the norm by the Neo, NNP or the bedside nurse when you are in the NICU calling. You can call your bedside nurse anytime just be mindful not to call during care times as the nurse will be busy with your baby. If there are ever any issues with your baby, the general rule is fix the baby first and then call parents second.
All the aspects of the NICU from the neonatologist, nurse practitioner, surgeons and specialty doctors, nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, nutritionist, lactation consultants are in place to give your infant the best and most optimal outcome. When discharge day comes, you will be a mini NICU nurse, you are trained specifically for your baby and whatever the needs are.
You will continue to do follow ups with the specialist when you are discharged and that will continue. Being on top of all this is a full time job, you will be a master of time management. You will become well versed in your child's health, meds, schedules, follow ups, strengths and weaknesses and an avid advocate for your child.
Last but very important to know, postpartum depression is very common in the NICU. The more traumatic the delivery and the sicker the baby, the more likely it will turn into PTSD. Speak to your OB/GYN as soon as you or your significant other notice that you are showing signs of depression and high anxiety.