How to Stay Healthy When Your Newborn Ends Up in the NICU

Bringing a baby into the world is an amazing and wonderful thing. Most of the time the only things a new mom will have to worry about after delivery is how to get enough rest, when to find time to take care of herself and of course how to care for the new baby when he comes home. When your newborn ends up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit life can get hectic and life is suddenly not what you were expecting. You might be within driving distance from the hospital with the ability to go home at the end of the day, or your newborn might also have been transported to a hospital so far away that you need temporary housing in another city. No matter how far from home you are, you need to take the time to step back take a breath and take care of yourself.

1. Call your family and/or friends to help you. They will be there for you and will be able to help you with any older children you might have. They are great support and can help keep your spirits up. They can be the ones to pass on information to the rest of the family and to friends who call your house. They will gladly take on any thing you ask of them so don’t be afraid to start delegating. Your new baby’s grandparents are ready to support you, let them.

2. Don’t forget that you just gave birth. You need to slow down and let your body heal. After giving birth you really should be in bed for a few days while your body recovers from the trauma of childbirth. While you are waiting to see your baby for the first time, go to the waiting room and sit down. Put your feet up and don’t strain yourself. You should not be pacing the hallways. Once you get to your newborn’s bedside sit down. If you are having trouble getting around or if you just had a C-section, ask for a wheel chair. Ask for help if you feel you need it.

3. If your OBGYN offers to a subscription for a pain reliever like vicodin take it. You don’t need suffer with back pain or other pains associated with child birth while you are sitting at your baby’s bedside. Ibuprofen is a great help too.

4. From the very beginning you need to remember to drink plenty of water and get enough healthy food. Hospital cafeterias don’t always have the best choices, but if you take the time to look you should be able to find something good for your body. If there is a salad bar, get a big salad. You are going to need plenty of fruits and veggies. Have a turkey sandwich instead of a piece of pizza. Get water, fruit juice or protein drinks instead of sodas or “energy” drinks. If you are breastfeeding or pumping ask your baby’s nurse if your hospital offers “Mom Trays” or food vouchers. A Mom Tray is similar to the food trays you receive in the maternity ward. Many times you have to take the time to order it, so if you are on your way to visit your baby, let your nurse know that you are coming in and that you will need your mom tray.

5. If you are planning on breastfeeding or pumping and feeding your baby as soon as possible you need to make sure your milk comes in. Ask for a breast pump right away. You might not be able to see your newborn for hours after he is admitted to the NICU, but you are still able to ask for help. Tell the nurses at the NICU desk that you want to pump and they will get everything you need and give you a place to pump. If you need help, ask for it. There are lactation specialists who are there to help you and your baby. If there is a lactation room go there, they are usually very comfortable and a great place to get some privacy for pumping. You should drink at least 8 ounces of water or juice ever single time you pump. Ask your if there is water or juice available for pumping and breastfeeding moms, often they will have something to drink available for you.

6. Talk to your baby. If you are allowed to touch your baby, hold his hand and rub his head. Tell your baby how much you love him, just talking to him will help both of you to feel better. Your baby has been hearing your voice for months and it will help comfort him.

7. Get sleep! The first couple of days will be the hardest on everyone, but especially mom who just gave birth and who should be resting most of the day. Be reasonable about how late you stay. Once your baby is stabilized pick a time to leave the hospital every night. Pay attention to the clock and prepare yourself for when it is time to leave. You may be extremely uncomfortable by your baby’s bedside, but sit back, close your eyes and take a nap. It is hard to get any real sleep in the NICU with all of the beeping machines and alarms going off, but take the time to close your eyes anyways. You will feel better if you do.

8. If you have older children, spend time with them. Every couple of days leave the hospital early and have a special night with them. Share a bowl of ice cream, read their favorite books, spend some time at the park, have movie night and let them pick out the movie.

9. If you have older children, bring them to the hospital to see the new baby. They don’t need to spend hours with the baby, just a few minutes. Just long enough to see what is going on and why everything has changed so much. This new little one has just disrupted their family and there is nothing wrong with sharing this with them. Talk to them about what is happening. Sit and read a book with your child or have your child sing to the baby. Interacting with the baby can help your older child feel involved and can help relieve stress for them too. Your baby will recognize his older siblings voice and that can help your baby feel comforted.

10. If you are too far away to drive home everyday get on the waiting list for the Ronald McDonald house or any other housing that is available for families of children admitted to the hospital. There are social workers there who can help you get set up with housing. If there is nothing available check to see if local hotels have a hospital discount for families of patients. Call as early in the day as possible because hotels have a set number of discounted rooms available per day.

11. Make your 6 week postpartum appointment. Time goes by fast in when your child is in the hospital and that 6 weeks will be here before you know it.

12. Don’t forget to take your multi-vitamins. You should still be taking your prenatal vitamins, especially if you are going to be nursing.

13. Get a notebook or journal and start writing everything down. You want to remember all of the doctors, nurses and specialist’s names and everything they said. There is going to be a lot of information about your baby’s condition and if you write everything down it will help you to understand more of what is going on as well as keep track of things as they change.

14. Take breaks from your baby’s bedside. Go down to the cafeteria and grab something to eat, if there is a place to sit outside and eat and the weather is nice, go eat outside. Take a walk outside, it is easy to find yourself entering the hospital first thing in the morning and not leaving until 7 or 8 at night, or even later. It is good to get outside during the day and get some fresh air and stretch your legs for a few minutes. It will help to clear your head and can really make you feel better. You can leave your cell phone number with your baby’s nurse and if there is an emergency they will call you.

15. If you get sick, stay home, stay away from your baby. You are not going to do yourself or your baby any good by going in to visit. You can do a lot of harm to your baby by going in sick.

16. If you have older children and they get sick don’t take them to visit. Watch yourself and make sure you are not getting sick. Take your sick child to the pediatrician and get advice from them, ask them if what your child has is harmful to the baby. Your pediatrician will know what is going on with your newborn and will gladly check out your older child to make sure something dangerous does not get passed on to your newborn.

17. Connect with other NICU moms and families. Sometimes you really want to be alone, but it is nice to have other people to chat with. You are going to see the same families over and over every day for weeks on end. There is a special bond that gets formed with someone going through something similar to you. It feels good to know that you are not alone. The lactation room can be a great place to meet other moms. If you are there every 2-3 hours you will probably run into the same women. Just say hello. It feels good.

18. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There IS a lot going on and the doctors and nurses ARE very busy, but they also want moms to be healthy, both physically and mentally, because when baby is ready to go home you need to be able to take care of your delicate little one. There are most likely going to be medications that your baby will need, or you might have to monitor your baby’s oxygen levels or heart rate at home. You might need to learn how to feed your baby through a feeding tube, how to give him a shot or how to change a catheter. If mom is not health, baby is not healthy. So please, if you need something, anything, just ask

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