The NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) journey can be a gruelling one. Whether your little love is in NICU for a day or months, the start to your parenting journey is different to what you imagined.
When you have your baby, you expect to be able to cuddle them close as soon as they exit your body. That your first suckle will be in that first meeting, skin to skin, cuddled close you cry your first new mummy tears, they are relief to have your sweet baby in your arms and love pouring from you. But for some of us our babies are whisked away, in need of medical intervention to help them breathe, manage their blood sugar levels, their temperature or some other important medical intervention. No first meeting, in your first moments of motherhood you experience a separation of a magnitude that is hard to imagine and devastating to try and recall.
Waking on a maternity ward without your baby can be tough. The sound of empty silence within your room is shattered by the sounds of other women’s babies crying. You got to sleep through the night, likely with the help of pain relief, that much is true, but you are stuck in the awful place of being separate from the little person who was growing inside you. Your mind telling you that your baby is in the right place to receive the care they so desperately need, and your heart screaming to be reunited, to hold them close and protect, nourish them with your own body.
You will be reunited, that your baby will come home when they are ready. You feel the strong pull of their need for you to be close to them as much as you can. You know your baby needs you as much as they need the medical care that they are receiving. This is hard Mumma, and it sucks. You can do hard things.
If you have a little one in NICU here are some tips to help you bond with your baby while they receive the much-needed care they are getting:
While you are both in hospital
- Head to the NICU as much and as often as you want
- Ask your baby’s care team to help you cuddle and feed your baby as much as you can manage, and they can tolerate (some very small babies do need to be in special cribs to meet their very early preterm needs)
- Be brave and get involved in baby’s care. Change their little nappy, feed them, talk to them softly and marvel at how your voice settles them
- Look and marvel at their little fingers and toes
- Allow yourself to feel awe at how strong they and you are
- Ask the care team every question that comes into your mind
- Just sit and be in your baby’s presence
- Rest, eat, and sleep
When you go home, and baby remains in NICU
- Rest, eat and sleep
- Remember if you can that baby is in the best place and as soon as they are big enough and strong enough, they will be home with you where they belong.
- If you are breastfeeding be sure to set reminders for pumping and keep plenty of containers for storage of your milk so the NICU staff can feed it to your baby. You also need to eat regularly, drink plenty of water and rest as much as you are able.
- Then follow the same points as above as much as you can working in with other children and any helpers that you have in your village.
When baby comes home
- You will have graduated the most challenging weeks of your lives together, enjoy your little one and seeing older siblings melt and coo
- Keep up with their established feed and sleep routine. The most common thing we hear from mums who have spent a lot of time in NICU is that this was helpful
- Look after yourself and enjoy your baby and keep asking for help when you need it
- You may be fearful bringing your baby home after a long NICU journey and this is okay. You have watched your baby like a hawk and had displays and beeping machines telling you about their oxygen saturation and heart rate. Now you are going home without all that equipment. Look at your baby, really look at them and you will be able to tell how they are. Ask all your questions of your baby’s care team, reach out to professionals for counselling support if you feel like this transition is too challenging, and trust that your baby is ready to come home with you. They have been discharged because it is safe for them, and it is time to come home.