Learning that your newborn might need a NICU stay is daunting. You may be wondering how best to juggle life at home, spend time with your new baby, and take care of the details of being in two places at once.
If you’re fortunate enough to know ahead of time that a NICU stay might be in your baby’s future, you’ll want to spend some time preparing. Learning about your NICU, prioritizing responsibilities, and keeping your expectations in check are good ways to proactively prepare for a NICU stay.
Check out these five tips for preparing for a NICU stay.
Tip #1: Know Your NICU
Learning the ins and outs of your hospital's NICU will make this transitional time smoother. Each NICU has slightly different rules and regulations; reviewing information on the hospital website, meeting with NICU staff, or even visiting your NICU are all great ways to learn a bit more about what may happen after baby’s birth.
You’ll want to learn answers to the following questions before your baby’s NICU stay:
❏ Who is allowed to visit my baby? What visiting hours are in effect in the NICU?
❏ Where can parents stay? Is there a Ronald McDonald house affiliated with the hospital?
❏ What is provided for nursing mothers (breast pumps, meals, etc)?
❏ Am I allowed to bring clothing and toys for baby?
Tip #2: Prioritize Your Responsibilities
While there are many times when it would be easier to be in two places at once, that’s just not a reality. While you’re baby is in the NICU, you’ll be tasked with recovering from giving birth, learning about your new little one, and juggling life at home.
Be as proactive as possible to make sure your responsibilities aren’t overwhelming. Delegate as many aspects of life at home as you can, from childcare for older siblings to meal preparation to gathering mail. Ask friends and family to pitch in to help with these everyday tasks.
Your main priority is your new baby. Use your support systems and plan to spend as much time as possible with him/her. While you’ll need to plan in daily breaks from the NICU, try to be available for your little one.
Tip #3: Embrace New Learning
Begin your journey by recognizing that care for premature babies is often different than that of full-term ones.
Be prepared to stick to baby’s daily schedule. If you’re planning to breastfeed baby, you’ll also have a strict routine of nursing or pumping throughout the day.
Listen carefully to the nurses. They have years of experience and, although you intimately know your baby, will carefully nurture your little one. There are ups and downs during a NICU stay; embrace the wisdom from others about the good days and inevitable bad ones.
Tip #4: Say Goodbye to Expectations
We enter parenthood with a whole range of expectations. From giving birth to how you feed baby, your hopes and dreams are real.
Everything may not be picturesque though. Baby can have a difficult day and all of a sudden you may be in tears. Give yourself some grace.
Just as your baby will learn and grow in the NICU, your body will also be adjusting to life after pregnancy. Be prepared for changing emotions and remember that you’re still in the postpartum period where every sentiment is magnified.
Mentally prepare to be flexible; NICU stays don’t come with expiration dates. More often than not your timeline will not be your baby’s so it’s important to have cautious optimism surrounding the going-home plan.
Tip #5: Prepare to Be Unprepared
No matter how meticulously you prepare and plan for your baby’s NICU stay, there will be a moment (or many moments) where you feel completely out of control.
Be ready to rally support people who can step in to fill the needs you haven’t anticipated. Look for friends or family who can keep you positive, who can take care of details, and who have similar experiences to draw from.
Rest assured that you’ve prepared the best you can and get ready for an unforgettable journey.
Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.