6 Secrets For Surviving the NICU

Image via Rachel Engel

Maybe you just gave birth to seven babies, and they need a few extra weeks in the hospital. Or maybe you have just one, sweet, beautiful baby, who was immediately whisked from your arms because they have intense medical needs.

Either way, there's something you're going to need: a Neonatal ICU Survival Guide.

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Trust me, these are things I wish someone had told me when we embarked on our NICU journey, so I speak from experience. Read, and absorb my wisdom as a NICU mommy who has been there.

Image via iStock

Strangers come in and out of your baby's room a gazillion times a day.

People are dropping off paperwork. Or medicine. Or supplies. Or are there to change the eraser board with the day's doctors' names. Or to take out the trash. Or to change the linens. Basically, don't expect your baby or yourself to ever actually sleep, because you pretty much have a revolving door 24/7.

Don't feel guilty taking a break, or, heaven forbid, a nap.

Being in the NICU, regardless of the medical shape your baby is in, is entirely too stressful for you to handle in one gulp. Go outside, walk around, grab some dinner. Heck, stretch out on whatever is available in their room, be it a crummy chair or a lumpy couch, and get as much snooze time as you can! The nurses are there to take care of your little one, and if anything happens in the brief amount of time you are taking a moment for yourself, they will wake you up, page you, or call you. If you don't step away now and then, I promise, those four walls will start to close in on you, and they're not big rooms to begin with!

Gift cards are the perfect answer to “What can we do?”

When people ask how they can help (and, believe me, people want to help so badly!), the best thing to ask for is a gift card to the hospital cafeteria. While the prices are usually lower than out in the real world, if your baby is admitted for any length of time, purchasing three meals a day adds up quickly. And, I mean, quickly. Those gift cards were, and still are, the most valuable thing we have come across during our stay.

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If you're confused or unsure about a procedure, surgery, or medication, ASK.

You have to be your child's advocate, and while it may seem smart to sit back and let the professionals do their job, YOU are the professional in regards to your child. To perform that job, you need to understand exactly what the doctors are thinking, why they are thinking it, and what their long-term plan for your child is. There is never a dumb question when it comes to the health of your child, so ask, ask, ask!

You are not stuck with the doctor you are assigned.

I am generally a nice person and incredibly respectful to authority figures, but sometimes, well … doctors end up getting a “god” complex and dismiss your concerns. Remember, you pay for your insurance, which in turn pays the doctors. If you are unhappy with the care you're receiving, or you don't like the way a certain doctor or nurse is interacting with your child, it is absolutely within your rights to ask they be taken off your child's case. As a matter of fact, we had to do that. I was told by a cardiologist some very devastating news in the coldest manner possible, and he seemed completely annoyed by my tears. My husband asked our case manager that he never be associated with our son again.


Take it easy. Seriously.

If you have a baby in the NICU, that means you recently gave birth. You're still healing, and your hormones are all over the place. Don't overdo it trying to be supermom at your baby's side. Let the nurses know when you would like them to take over the temperature taking, the diaper changing, the feeding, and then just sit down. They can actually deliver him straight to your arms clean, fed, and swaddled, and all you have to do is enjoy the cuddles while you let your stitches heal. Pretend you're Angelina Jolie for a moment, and let the nurses do the dirty work while you wade through the emotional madness that comes with having child in the NICU.

It's not easy being here. It's exhausting, mentally, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The easiest way (if there is such a thing in this sort of situation) is to take it one day at a time. Thinking long term only gives you a headache as well as the urge to cry (at least, it does me).

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You can handle this. You can. Keep telling yourself that.

Have you ever had a baby in the NICU?

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What do you think?

6 Secrets For Surviving the NICU

Rachel is a stay-at-home-mom to her 4-year-old daughter, Sydney, and her 18-month-old son, Jackson. Her writing can be found all over the web, mostly detailing her own parenting struggles and triumphs, as well as her life as the military spouse of an active-duty airman. She also writes about her life as as a special needs parent on her blog, Tales From the Plastic Crib, and spends an unnecessary amount of time on Twitter. ... More

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  1. Melissa says:

    Great article! Our twin girls also spent time in the NICU; one came home with us after a week, and the other was transferred to another hospital an hour and a half away from us and came home five weeks later. Yikes! A few things we learned:

    — Leave a disposable camera in the baby’s room so that the nurses can take photos when you’re not there. (If you have multiple kids in multiple places, you won’t be able to be there nearly as often as you’d like.)

    — Have the nurses teach you how to do everything. When we brought our first baby home, we already knew how to change her diaper, take her temperature, give her a bath, etc. because we watched the nurses do it and then had them supervise as we did it. It really helped.

    — Take care of yourself (as the author says). Your baby/ies will need you to be on top of your game when they come home, so be sure to rest and let your body heal as much as you can while they’re in the NICU.

    Best of luck to all the parents going through the NICU madness now. Hang in there; you will get through it!

  2. Miranda says:

    My son is in the NICU right now and it is the hardest thing my husband and I had ever had to go through. We live an hour away from the hospital where my son is at (I got transferred by emergency ambulance from our hospital because ours was a smaller hospital and doesn’t have a NICU) and don’t get to get in there everyday. It is so hard and I find myself feeling guilty for not being there. Does anyone else have this issue and how do you deal with it? My son was supposed to come home this past weekend but he had a bradycardia so he’s in there until Monday. Hopefully he comes home then.

    • Jessica says:

      One more thing… Don’t think for a second that another mother who spends more time there is doing more than you or a better mother… Because every situation is different! I found myself thinking that maybe they would think I didn’t want to be there and that was never the case. The staff in the nicu gets people from all around and have seen all kinds of situations.
      🙂 smiles,

    • Jessica says:

      I know that exact feeling of guilt. My son was born 5 weeks early emergency c-section and spent 21 days in the nicu… Those days were the longest days of my life. We live an hour away from the hospital where he needed to be at when he was born because of an uncertainty of a hernia he may have had and would have required surgery.. Luckily I was at that hospital that day for an appointment. After I was discharged I wasn’t able to get there everyday either. It was a terrible winter and it just wasn’t safe or possible to travel a few days. I couldn’t drive myself yet and I couldn’t force anyone to push forward in the weather lol.
      I also have a son who is 7 and he had school. It was a mess…Christmas came and then New Years… It was such a hard time… But take this time to rest 🙂 other mommies and nurses that are there when you can’t be will make sure he knows he is not alone :). I’d watch mommies leave and glance over at there bundle… The nurses are really good at what they do! I never had one that wasn’t meticulous and extra caring… Some were old school and didn’t have much of a sweet talkative side… But they were actually the ones who knew there stuff! I wish that I’d of relaxed instead of being filled with guilt. I’d call the nurses crying and they’d give me updates. Hang in there!! Your doing everything your supposed to do!! Congratulations 🙂
      Sending lots of smiles and sunshine your way….

  3. Kim says:

    Baby Boy was in for 17 days! Day 10 we were assured he was going home the next morning but he had an episode with his heart and wound up staying 7 more days! I cried more that day than ever in my life and that was ok!

  4. Jason says:

    You have to look at the silver lining: you can learn a TON from the NICU nurses! Everything happens for a reason, and if your baby is in the NICU take full advantage. The nurses will teach you more than you could ever have learned on your own being discharged a day or two after giving birth. And, bonus: the babies are already on a schedule when you take them home. My twins were in the NICU for 6 1/2 weeks and keeping them on the schedule the nurses started them on was the best thing ever.

  5. Rachel says:

    I really liked this article, I have a baby girl that got out of the NICU only 3 weeks ago. I think that these were the best advice that I have seen for surviving the NICU yet! 🙂


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