A NICU stay can be daunting, scary, and traumatic, so there are a few things that are important for all of us to know.
So even if you haven’t been through it, chances are, you know someone who has.
Babies can either be in the NICU due to being born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or due to illness when they’re at term.
But even though the statistics are high, parents are often unprepared for having their baby in the neonatal unit.
So here are six things I wish I knew when my baby was in NICU.
In this article: 📝
- 1. You might not know what everything means
- 2. You must drink, rest, and look after yourself
- 3. You will spend time in fight, flight, or freeze mode
- 4. Try to accept help from friends and family
- 5. Sometimes you don’t process what’s happened until you’re home
- 6. Reach out to professionals if you want or need help
1. You might not know what everything means
Being thrown into a neonatal intensive care unit can feel overwhelming.
The beeping, the machines… it can feel like a different world, full of medical jargon that you don’t understand.
Especially if you’ve been through a birth that may have been sudden or traumatic.
Know that it’s OK to ask questions.
It’s OK to say that you don’t understand.
It’s OK to ask the same questions repeatedly until you do understand.
It’s OK to advocate for your baby and for yourself.
It’s OK to challenge things that you don’t think are right.
2. You must drink, rest, and look after yourself
When your baby is in the NICU, it can feel like you need to be at their bedside 24/7.
Guilt can creep in at the idea of leaving them, but inevitably, you may have to go home, which is incredibly difficult.
Use the time when you’re at home to rest in whatever way you can.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so the more you’re able to look after yourself, the more you’re able to be there for your baby.
3. You will spend time in fight, flight, or freeze mode
When you’re in high-stress situations, your body will react through a fight, flight, or freeze response — it’s your brain’s way of trying to protect you — essentially, a trauma response.
You might notice your heart beating faster, your legs turning to jelly, a knot in your stomach, or a feeling of tension.
Or you might notice yourself feeling… numb — like you’re wading through water and not really taking in what’s happening.
You might even feel like you have to get away from it all, like it’s all too much to deal with right now.
You don’t get to pick which response you use as a coping mechanism, but whichever way you feel, it’s totally valid.
4. Try to accept help from friends and family
It’s hard when you get that well-meaning text message from friends or family that reads “Let me know if I can do anything to help”.
Your mind is all over the place, and making decisions or asking for help might feel like too much.
But remember that it’s OK to ask for help, and it’s actually necessary to enable you to be able to look after yourself and your baby to your best ability.
And if someone is offering, they want to help — it’ll make them feel better, too.
Friends and family can step in to make you meals, drive you to the hospital, look after pets or other children, or help out with general life admin.
To make things even easier for you, here’s a full list of ideas of what other people can do to support you when you’re in the NICU — so you don’t even have to think about it!
5. Sometimes you don’t process what’s happened until you’re home
Your first experiences of motherhood are probably not going to be how you expected.
If you have a baby in the NICU, you’re often not able to hold them for hours, days, or sometimes weeks — an incubator replaces your arms where you imagined and longed for your baby to be.
But when you’re in the NICU, you’re on autopilot.
You do whatever you need to do to get by.
You might feel like you’re alone in the sadness, the guilt, and the grief, but you are not.
You can always reach out for the support of other NICU mamas on Peanut, too.
6. Reach out to professionals if you want or need help
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in parents who have been through the NICU is as high as 53% among moms, and the likelihood of experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety is higher, too.
It’s so important to look after yourself, be aware of the symptoms, and talk to your healthcare provider if you’re struggling.
You would seek help if you had ongoing physical issues after birth, so looking after your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Having a baby in the NICU isn’t an experience I’d want any mother to go through, but unfortunately, it happens.
So if you’re reading this while your baby’s in the NICU, I want you to know that you’re doing great, mama.
And if you want to talk about it, there’s always someone who gets it.
You are not alone.