Published on August 04, 2017

8 Things all NICU Parents Should Know

John Ciannella, MD, Neonatology

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For questions about the NICU or premature birth, call Kathy Livolsi, Director of Maternal/Child Health, at 203.276.7179.

Your baby has made his or her appearance into the world. While you were most likely hoping for a “perfect” childbirth, you just learned that your baby requires some extra care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). No matter what the reason may be for your baby’s NICU stay, you’re most likely exhausted and at a loss for words. You’re probably wondering what the coming days, or even weeks, will bring.

Baby in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) incubatorThe following tips from Stamford Hospital’s NICU staff can serve as a NICU “go-to guide” for yourself or for anyone you know.

1. You’re scared, but you’re not alone. Neither is your baby.
This is possibly the hardest part to keep in mind. You may feel helpless, and even guilty, in some ways. These are very common—and normal—feelings for NICU parents to have. Remember, your baby is being cared for by a team of experts.

2. Skin to skin contact, and bonding, is important.
Think about how a kangaroo cares for its young. The baby bonds with the mother or father by being held directly against the skin. The NICU team will encourage this whenever possible. On a slightly separate note, you can sing, talk or read to your baby to establish a connection. Try your best not to let the fact that he or she is in an incubator discourage you.

3. Take care of yourself.
At first, you may feel compelled to spend every minute in the NICU. While you’re welcome to, don’t. You may feel the need to sacrifice sleep for the sake of your baby. Don’t. Remember, your baby needs your full attention when he or she comes home, so that means you have to be as well rested as possible. It’s OK to let a few dishes pile up in the sink or to leave the laundry unfolded if it means extra rest and relaxation for you.

4. Be prepared for concerned siblings.
“When can my brother/sister come home?” and, “why is he/she still in the hospital?” are some common questions parents face. The key is to reassure them that the team of doctors and nurses are working very hard to get their newborn sibling home as soon as possible. It also helps to reiterate that certain babies may need some extra care in the beginning.

5. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
All your relatives and friends have the best of intentions and are eager to visit your newborn baby. However, baby’s health is number one. There’s no shame in explaining that you’re grateful for the thought, but you need to control the number of visits because of the health of your baby and the other babies sharing the NICU space. Stamford Hospital’s NICU allows parents to visit 24/7 with up to 2 visitors at a time, and depending on seasonal risk certain children may visit as well.

6. Ask all the questions you want.
The NICU is staffed by trained and certified professionals 24/7, not only to keep your baby healthy, but to cater to your needs as well. So ask, ask away. Some questions you may have for doctors include:

  • What do the numbers on the monitor mean?
  • If breast milk is best, why are you telling me to feed my baby formula?
  • How often should I hold my baby during his/her stay?
  • Will you be communicating with my baby’s “regular” pediatrician before discharge?

7. Accept help from friends and family.
Don’t feel shy or guilty about letting those close to you help with daily tasks. Let your neighbor drive your older kids to school. Put your parents on house cleaning duty if things get a little messy. Reach out to your community, it is after all what its name implies: a network of people who support you!

8. Connect with like-minded parents.
The Tiny Miracles Foundation is a wonderful organization that offers support for families with premature infants when they are hospitalized as well as after discharge. Feel free to ask our staff about other specific support groups, as well.

Lastly, the NICU staff is not only specially trained, but passionate about what they do. It’s their personal and professional “calling” to take care of premature, sick or high-risk infants. With a warm, family-centered approach, you can rest assured that your newborn is in the hands of excellent care.