A Mother’s Guide to Surviving the NICU

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It’s every prospective mother’s worst nightmare: something will go wrong at birth, landing her baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As often as this nightmare never comes true, there are some mothers for whom it becomes a reality.

The NICU is a terrifying place. From the constant beeping of machines to the uncertainty of what will happen next, it’s easy for moms to fall into a depressive state. After my son was rushed to the NICU because of his stroke in utero, I found myself spiraling into a NICU depression, questioning why this happened to my child and worrying about his future. Through it all, I found these five things most critical in helping me survive the NICU, and they can help you survive it, too.

Get to know your baby’s nurses. Nurses come and go in a hospital, making getting to know them difficult if you’re there for a few short days. This isn’t the case in the NICU. Sure, these nurses undergo shift changes and days off, but it is common to see the same nurses caring for babies over time. Establishing a relationship with your baby’s caregivers can help lessen the anxiety you feel about whether or not your child is getting the kind of care and attention you would provide.

Take breaks. It’s natural to want to stay by your baby’s side as long and often as possible. But the truth is, that high-stress environment can be toxic to your psyche. Taking walks around the hospital or grabbing lunch at a local restaurant can do wonders for your mental health. Don’t worry about missing something important. Most NICUs will without hesitation call or page you in the event of an emergency.

Have faith that you are bonding with your baby. Seeing your baby in an incubator or confined to a cradle can increase fears that you are not bonding properly. Find comfort in the knowledge that every measure you take to build a rapport with your baby – from singing softly by his bedside to stroking her hand – is bringing the two of you closer.

Get involved in NICU activities. Often, the NICU will host activities, from how-to-care-for-baby sessions to craft-making lunch parties. Take advantage of as many of these as possible. The opportunity to meet other parents with similar struggles and to get to know the doctors in charge of your baby’s care can serve to boost your morale and eradicate feelings of helplessness.

Focus on the positives. When your child is in critical condition, it’s difficult to think about what’s right in the world. But counting your blessings is essential to both your well-being and that of your baby. Fix your attention on your baby’s day-to-day progress and milestones, pushing those fears and apprehensions to the back of your mind. A positive attitude can mean the difference between breakdown and survival.

The NICU can be a frightening place for mothers, but it is possible to get through the experience unscathed. Like me, following these tips can help you survive the NICU as well, spirits intact.

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