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How to navigate the NICU

premie baby in the nicu

Born at 32 weeks and six days and weighing a tiny 3.2 pounds, my son spent the first month of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). That’s also where I spent long 12-hour days—watching nurses, the glow of incubators, listening to the hushed voices of other preemie parents. The experience can be a roller coaster for new moms and dads. Here’s how to get through those first few days.

Make Friends

It may seem like an unusual place to befriend someone, but no other parent can truly understand the ups and downs of life with a preemie than a fellow NICU parent. Leanne Tully and I met while we were both at McMaster Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., where our babies were born a day apart. We ate lunch together, shared updates, discussed our postpartum woes and breastfeeding struggles. It was comforting having someone to lean on.

Meet The Medical Team

Make an effort to meet the healthcare providers who make up your babe’s team. And try to be available when doctors and nurses are doing rounds so you can hear the latest updates and ask questions.

Be Hands-On

It can seem frightening to handle your baby with all those cords and monitors, but take on as much of his or her care as you’re able (without becoming overly anxious), whether it’s changing diapers, bathing or feeding. Last fall, BC Women’s Hospital and Health Care Centre in Vancouver launched a new NICU model, in which each family has a room to themselves rather than being in a multi-patient ward. Julie de Salaberry, the director of the hospital’s neonatal programs, says, “high maternal involvement can lead to greater weight gain, as well as fewer infections, less time on breathing machines, increased rates of breastfeeding at discharge and reduced length of stay.”

Accept Help

It will make friends and family feel they can take some of the load off you, giving you time and energy to focus on your babe. Our families prepared meals for us so that we wouldn’t have to grocery shop or cook and my best friend bought and washed clothes for our son.

Take Care Of Yourself

“I encourage parents to rest—go home, eat a healthy meal, have a shower and do whatever they need to prepare to bring their baby home,” says Dr. Catherine Taylor, a paediatrician, neonatologist and service medical director of the NICU with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. Many hospitals also have special lounges for caregivers, including rooms where you can catch up on sleep.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring/Summer 2018

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