What to Do When Your Baby is in the NICU

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</b>

“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

Emily Rosenberg, a physical therapist in the NICU at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, says that just being present will help you bond with your new Baby. “Parents are able to come to our NICU any time of day except for two half hour windows during shift change. Parents are encouraged to do all the care they are comfortable with like changing diapers, taking temperatures, changing clothes, and feeding and holding their babies. The nurses and the therapists assist teaching parents these activities to help them feel comfortable.”

Some families may have twins or higher-order multiples in the NICU at the same time. Many babies may find comfort being physically close to one another (if allowed by the health care team) or in the same room.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 Babyhome.

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.

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