Every mother looks forward to the moment after the grueling hours of labor and delivery when she can pack everything up and take her newborn home from the hospital. But not every baby gets to go home right away.
Though it’s hard to imagine for yourself and your newborn, around 10 to 15 percent of babies born in the United States end up needing care from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Some NICU stays are expected before your baby is born. The doctor may notice some condition and be able to warn you ahead of time that your newborn may have to spend some time in the NICU. If this is the case, make sure to ask questions about what a stay in the NICU will entail. This gives you time to get familiar with the hospital’s NICU policy and talk to other parents who have had similar situations and can support and guide you.
Your new baby may have to spend time in the NICU because of a medical condition that you have, because of a medical condition that she has, or because of situations that can arise during labor and delivery.
Certain conditions in a new mother can result in a NICU stay, including
There are situations that can arise during the birth process than can also require your baby to spend some time in the NICU. These include
Your baby may be born with a condition that requires a little more time in the hospital. These can include
Even babies who are born without any complications may end up back in the NICU. This can happen because of things like infections, poor weight gain, or jaundice.
The old saying goes “Expect the best, prepare for the worst.” No one wants to go home without their newborn, but there are ways to make the stay in NICU a little less stressful for you and your partner.
When your new baby is in the NICU, she’s got lots of people taking care of her. It’s important that parents are involved too. But it’s also important that you take care of yourself as well. After all, you just had a baby!
Sticking to a regular schedule can help ease the difficulty of having a baby in the NICU.
It’s also important that you take care of your body physically. That means eating healthy foods, staying well-hydrated, and getting a good night’s sleep. Your new baby needs you to be healthy!
Get counseling if you need it so you stay mentally healthy too. Most NICUs have a counselor, clergy, or staff available to offer support and mental health help while your newborn baby is in the NICU. Take advantage of these services.
Connect with other parents who have babies in the NICU. It’s nice to have someone who can relate to what you’re going through.
Let friends and family support you while your baby is in the NICU. They can help with baby’s older siblings, prepare meals, run errands, keep your house clean, and simply offer a shoulder to cry on.
Make sure you’re bonding with your new baby, even if you can’t hold her. You can change her diaper, give her a bath, read and talk to her, even if you’re not able to hold her just yet.
Help older siblings understand the situation. Keep them in the loop! Your other children may not understand why their new baby brother or sister can’t come home yet. And they might be confused and sad because mom and dad are gone so often. Check in with baby’s siblings and let them ask questions and tell you how they feel. Often, NICU nurses will give tours to baby’s siblings and show them how they are caring for their brother or sister in the NICU.
“My daughter was born premature with down syndrome and a few other health issues. She had a two-month stay in the NICU. It was almost like a job. My husband and I would get up early and go visit her. We would be there from 8 a.m. and leave around 8 p.m. after talking to the night nurses about her care. We would get home, take care of the pets, shower, and go to bed and do it all over again in the morning. While at the hospital we would play board and card games while she was sleeping. The hospital also had events for the parents to get to know each other there. Her first Thanksgiving was there and was the hardest day for us. She’s now three and doing great.” –Kat Williams
“I’ve had three NICU babies due to isoimmunization. My last two spent a month each. It’s hard but having a supportive partner definitely helps.” -McKayla Allen
“My first baby was a 13 week NICU stay. It was hard, especially because it was 2 hours from my home. My second baby was five days and the third was ten days. It’s never easy; we just do our best.” –Meg Schmitter
“My daughter was born six weeks premature and had to stay for about two weeks. I stayed with her the whole time except to go home and take a shower. Having support is always great! Take it one day at a time. My little one just turned one.” –Simone Gwen
“It was depressing. I spent every moment I could at the hospital. The NICU becomes like a surrogate family. It was rough on their dad. He had to return to work.” –Christi Marie Lines
“I stayed two weeks with her in the NICU. I left once to get clothes. Dad stayed with her while I went home. It was a horrible experience, but we bonded while visitors were limited.” –Stephanie Myers
Even though your baby’s time in the NICU can be sad and emotionally draining for everyone, it’s important that you take lots of pictures during this time. If you can afford to do it and the NICU staff allows it, hire a professional photographer who specializes in birth and newborn baby photography. These photographers are specially trained to work around the staff and the equipment to get pictures of baby’s early days.
If your situation does not allow you to hire a newborn photographer, here are some tips for photographing your own baby while she’s in the NICU.
Forget the flash! Many hospitals won’t allow you to take flash photos of your newborn in the NICU. Also, the flash can be hard on baby’s sensitive eyes.
Don’t worry about fancy equipment. If a mobile phone or digital camera is all you have, then definitely use what’ve you got to get baby’s first photographs.
If your baby is a preemie, memorialize her size by putting items in with her that show perspective. Slide dad’s wedding ring around her wrist, or simply lay your hand on her head to show the relationship in size.
Photograph all the sweet details of your newborn baby, from her tiny hands and feet to the tip of her swirly-haired head.
Photograph the doctors and nurses who are taking care of your newborn during baby’s first days and weeks. They’re a part of her story too.
And of course, take lots of pictures of that magical moment when you get to take baby home from the hospital. After all, it’s a celebration, no matter how long it took to get there!