Let's be honest having a preemie and ending up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is no place a mother dreams of being when she finds out she's pregnant, and honestly, I would never wish this for any mother.
But, the NICU does not have to be all bad, after all the NICU is the next best place other than your womb to help your premature baby grow stronger. The NICU tries to mimic a mother's womb as best as possible for our tiny little miracles.
So, let's get straight to the point, as a NICU preemie mom myself I know how useless and helpless you can feel when the nurses do everything for your baby.
The first few days even weeks can be very daunting, and you might even be unsure and scared to ask or do anything. Let us look at some ways how you can get involved and make the best of the NICU journey for you and your preemie.
Ask questions and speak up:
Giving birth to a premature baby can be incredibly stressful and it's easy to feel disconnected. Most parents are unsure and do not even know where to start when it comes to asking questions. Some good questions to ask are:
- What is your Kangaroo Mother Care – Skin to Skin policy, and when may I start with KMC?
- How often may we visit our baby?
- May I have a number to phone in to the NICU to hear how my baby is doing when I get discharged.
- What should I bring for my baby?
- What am I allowed to bring into the NICU?
- What other rules do you have in your NICU?
Get to know the nurse caring for your baby, it helps to have a friendship with the nurse looking after your preemie, this will make you feel more at ease and will improve your ability to ask questions and advocate for your baby.
Remember that you are baby's mom, and that you play an incredibly important role in also helping them through this experience.
One thing to remember as a parent in the NICU is that you are your babies only advocate, you need to speak up if something is bothering you or ask questions when you are unsure.
Something that will also help you navigate around the NICU is to learn the "NICU language".
This also comes from asking questions, this way you will learn to know what certain beeps and ‘'stats'' on the machines mean and will make you more confident around your preemie, and gives you more freedom to bond with your baby, by understanding the environment they are in.
Skin to Skin – Kangaroo Mother Care has so many benefits:
Do as much skin-to-skin with your baby as possible. Studies have shown that skin to skin is not just amazing for bonding, but also improves milk supply and has MANY other advantages for premature babies.
- It helps them cope with stress
- More stable heart rate
- It regulates their body temperature
- It improves the nervous system functioning
- More stable sleep patterns
- Better cognitive control
- Regulates heart rate and respiration
- Reduces post-natal depression in mom
- Improves weight gain
Ask your NICU if you may place a NICU bonding heart with your baby.
A person's sense of smell is closely linked to memory throughout life, and these memories can often trigger certain emotions that provide relief. For a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), certain smells - like a mother's - can provide comfort in more ways than one.
Mom places one clean fabric heart on her skin for a few hours to absorb her unique scent. When mom must leave the NICU she leaves the NICU heart near her baby in the isolate to provide comfort and continue bonding even during times of separation.
NICU BONDING HEARTS - https://www.littlelittleprem.co.za/product/nicu-bonding-heart/
It is natural to feel like the nurses are taking over. A mother's instinct is to provide and care for her new-born baby. In the NICU this might not always be possible.
Ask the NICU staff to give you the schedule of when they will change baby's nappy and feed baby. Try to be there to feed (hold the feeding tube) and/or change your babies' nappy, Ask the nurse to show you how to reconnect the pulse oximeter as it can easily fall off and needs to be changed frequently.
These are tiny things that you as a mother want to naturally do and can do for your baby and will help the bonding between you and your little miracle.
Read and sing to your baby:
Your little baby has been listening to you and your partners voice in utero and finds your voices comforting as it is familiar to your baby. Reading and singing to your baby can help soothe your baby and has many benefits for brain development.
Singing and reading also improves the bonding between parent and baby. Unfortunately, with the COVID – 19 pandemic some NICU's only allow short visits for one parent a day.
Record your voice while you read a story or sing a song. You could ask the nurses to play the recording to your baby when you are not there or record your partners voice and play it when you to your baby when you visit.
Expressing your breastmilk for your baby has become something you do more than sleep at this moment, and it can be very stressful sometimes. Carey Haupt, a qualified lactation consultant and ex-preemie mom, thought of expressing her breastmilk as writing a love letter for her baby. Every time she went to take her milk to the NICU she thought of it as giving her baby the best gift she can give at that moment, how special is that.
Watching a video recording of your baby can help you enjoy your pumping session and can improve your milk production as your oxytocin levels rise when you see your baby.
Renting or buying a good electric breast pump can also make your pumping time less and more effective. Electric Breast pump
Create memories, take as many photos as possible with and of your baby. NICU Milestone cards are great to celebrate your baby's milestones in the NICU. Keep a NICU Journal, write down the events of the day, the ups, the downs, and the special moments.
Ask for help:
Accept and ask for help. It is exhausting having a premature baby in the NICU and you can do with the extra help. Sometimes we as new mothers feel to proud to accept help from others, but being a preemie mama is already so much weight on your shoulders, let friends and family help by taking some of the weight off your shoulders.
Join a support group:
Having a support group with other moms that know exactly what you are going through can be so valuable to a preemie mom, here you can ask questions and ask for advice from one mom to another, it also provides a space for you to vent and to find a shoulder to cry on or even celebrate little milestones in and outside the NICU.
JOIN our NICU/Preemie mom support group - https://chat.whatsapp.com/BIfkgFCmYpW2dAKFxxUScW
Remember that the NICU journey is a step process many forward and many backwards, but little by little you will move forward, and your baby will fight like a preemie, tiny steps at a time.
Lots of love your Fellow NICU mama
Little Little Prem