When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I knew that a NICU stay was likely. However, no one plans for their babies to come as early as 31 weeks.The twins were delivered in an OR with a large NICU team ready to take them (I only briefly got to hold our little boy in the OR).
It’s not surprising that a NICU stay is hard, but I can testify that you aren’t aware of all the challenges until you’ve experienced it yourself (not to mention all of the challenges COVID-19 shutdowns added). I’m thankful for so many words of wisdom that I received from former NICU parents, so I hope to be helpful and an encouragement to any NICU parents I meet.
While it’s hard to summarize the entire NICU experience, I want to highlight 6 takeaways from the twins NICU stay.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
There’s a lot of little things to figure out in the NICU. Not only are you trying to stay up to date with medical state of your baby (or babies), you need to learn a million other things like where to wash your pump supplies, where to get a pump, how to change a diaper while maneuvering around wires and tubes, understanding what the monitors tell you so you don’t fret at every alarm going off, etc. The nurses and staff are there to help you just as much as they are there to help your baby.
CELEBRATE THE LITTLE THINGS
Premature birth is a very scary thing and it’s especially hard when you have no idea when your baby will get to come home. Rather than dwelling on them being ready to go home, it’s helpful to acknowledge where your baby is at and celebrate the little wins. Whether your little one is getting their IV removed or passing a car seat test, celebrate it all!
IT’S OKAY TO GRIEVE NORMALCY
One of the hard things about the NICU experience is that so many things you anticipate about the birth and postpartum are completely crushed. You likely won’t be able to hold your baby after birth, you won’t get the family photo you’ve planned and pictures, you might spend a long time exclusively pumping before feeding your baby yourself, etc. Know it’s okay to grieve these things!
DON’T FEEL GUILTY
It’s easy to feel guilty leaving the hospital. Know that whatever amount of time you can spend with your babies is what’s best. There are so many different things to consider depending on if you have to go back to work, if you have older kids, how far you are from the hospital, and more. The NICU team is taking good care of your little one and it’s important for you to do what’s best for your family.
EDUCATE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Just like you won’t know how things work in the NICU until you experience it, your family and friends definitely won’t. There’s a lot of things people won’t think about, like the fact that you probably are already sleep deprived even though the babies aren’t home yet (gotta love that 3 hour exclusive pumping schedule). NICU life can be very lonely at times so talking through it with close family friends can be extremely helpful.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are all very common for NICU parents (you can read a little bit more about it here). From entering the hospital and passing mothers leaving from their “normal” birth with a baby in their arms to the constant beeping monitors, there are so many things that can trigger anxiety. Know that it is completely understanding to feel this way. If you need to talk to professionals for help, most hospitals offer resources within the NICU department.
Not a NICU parent but want to help someone who is? Here are some easy ways to be a blessing to them…
- Buy them gift cards for restaurants nearby (or inside) the hospital they’re at.
- If they have older kids, offer to babysit while they are at the hospital.
- If they’re far from the hospital, money for gas.
- Put together a care basket with snacks to take on the go.
- Give the mom lactation cookies and other pumping/nursing supplies