Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What You Can Do: Caring for your Baby in the NICU

Your baby came too early. Now you are trying to recover, possibly in a drug-induced haze, agonizing over her condition, standing helpless by her bedside. One of the most difficult experiences in the life of a parent is too watch your child suffer, and not be able to do anything about it.

If this is where you're at today, I've been there too. Take heart friend- there are ways that you can help and care for your baby, long before he is able to snuggle in your arms. Here are a few ideas:

1. Be there. Even though you can't hold him, and may feel useless, your presence is of utmost importance. Your baby recognizes your voice from the womb, and hearing you with him will be reassuring in his new scary world. Your presence also communicates your level of concern with the staff, they will know that you care and will seek to better equip and inform you in your NICU journey. It will be vital to your comfort and peace of mind to know as many of your baby's caregivers as well as possible. Lastly, the best way to become as knowledgeable as you can is to be present, asking questions and observing the doctors and nurses.

2. Get on your knees. Run to the LORD for healing and comfort, seek the face of the God who formed your precious baby in your womb and still is holding her in His hands. He knows, He cares, He is at work here. You will have the unique privilege of watching your baby's development week by week, a process normally hidden from human eye. You will see His miracle of life at work in a way that many will never see. Seek Him for grace and strength, find grace in the everlasting arms. In Him you will find the power and grace that you need to walk through this difficult journey.

3. Get rest. While it is important to be there, it is equally urgent to get good rest. You cannot help your baby when you are battling exhaustion and a weakened body; these factors will only add stress and weigh you down. Go home, get some sleep, eat good food. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

4. Pump breastmilk. Breastfed preemies flourish on a much higher level then formula fed. When your baby has breastmilk, his chances of developing the dreaded NEC infection are much lower. Your milk will keep his G.I tract healthy, aid in quicker development, and provide him with much needed immunities. Seek out a lactation consultant for help here, if your hospital does not provide one, La Leche League can help you to find one in your area (or at least provide you with some much needed information!). If your milk doesn't come in as quickly as you're told it should, do not stress out! This was a high stress area for me in the first few days of S' life. The sooner you relax, the better off your supply will be. Just follow the advice of your lactation consultant, and try to find a back-up plan if possible. If you really are unable to pump, ask your NICU staff about donor milk. The head doctor of our NICU ordered several ounces from a milk bank just in case, which helped me to relax and did increase my supply.

5. Read up. One of the best things I did in those early days was to purchase a couple of books on prematurity. I found Dr. Sear's The Premature Baby Book and Dr. Jen Gunter's The Preemie Primer to be especially beneficial. As I learned the medical jargon, what it really means, and what we were potentially going to be dealing with, I felt empowered and better prepared to advocate for my daughter.



6. Touch. Depending on how early your baby came, and how stable their condition is, you might not be able to touch or hold them for a long time. Ask the nurses about how you can safely touch your baby. With S, we were told to place a hand on her head and one on her feet and legs (no rubbing or patting as this irritates their fragile skin!) to comfort her, because it made her feel snug and secure like she would have been in my belly. At five days old I was able to kangaroo with her, which was a very healing experience for both of us. If you're unable to kangaroo for weeks or even longer, read about it, tell the doctors that you want to do it as soon as your baby is physically ready, and prepare by bringing a button down shirt to the hospital. When S was several weeks old, one of the Neonatologists really encouraged me by praising her extreme alertness. She explained that this was due to all of the touch and special care S had received from me. Let me tell you, that was a happy day for me in the NICU!

7. Express your desire to be involved, ask what you can do! Most nurses will teach you how to change your baby's diaper, give them a bath, take their temperature. Tell them that you want to do everything that you are allowed to do. They should be very happy to assist you in this way!

Holding S for the first time, while a nurse changed her bedding. 4 days old.
Ultimately you are essential to your baby. You may worry that your baby doesn't know you, that they will know their nurses better than their mother; I did. These feelings can be devastating. Rest assured, your baby does know you the best and need you the most! The first time I kangarood with S, her oxygen saturation was excellent, and she cried when they pulled her off of me at the end. It was the first time I felt like her mom; she wanted to stay with me. It was a truly precious moment. At 7 months old one of our favorite NICU nurses came to visit S- S started bawling and looking for mommy the second I handed her to the nurse. You may not feel like the mom right now, but someday soon you will. Never question this!

Do what you can do. At the end of the day, refuse to beat yourself up for what you didn't or couldn't do. Cherish whatever time you are given with your baby. And be sure to thank God for His mercies which are new every morning!

2 comments:

  1. Great ideas. You are such an encouragement to other moms going through the same thing!

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  2. I just love this post. Would you consider posting your entry as a guest blog post on our preemie information blog? I think so many moms could benefit from this post. Just think it over and let me know! Blessings, Amber (you can reach me directly at amber@preemieprints.org). :)

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