Leaving Baby at the NICU
A parents’ survival guide for when a preemie needs intensive care
Get Ready To Pump
During my pregnancy, I assumed I'd breastfeed my baby. But I was speechless when, the day after I gave birth, the nurses brought me a breast pump and milk bags. Many preemies aren't yet strong enough to nurse on their own. So there I sat, listening to the whomp-whomp sound the contraption made as it sucked milk from my breasts, feeling more like a cow than an enraptured new mom. But I stuck it out, as many mothers who have sick or premature babies in the NICU are encouraged to do.
Pumping may be unromantic, but your breast milk can do wonders for your baby's well-being. In fact, it’s higher in certain proteins and amino acids than that of mothers of full-term babies. Plus, pumping allows you to do something for your baby that no one else can.
Be patient while pumping, advise mothers who've been there— and be proud of what you're able to produce. Relax, drink lots of water, and try to think about how your milk is helping your baby grow and thrive. "For the first two days, I pumped and pumped and thought, nothing was coming," recalls Karen Cork. But the nurses took those first drops and fed them to her son. What Cork had considered "nothing" was colostrum, the fluid rich in antibodies and nutrients that all breast-feeding women produce before their milk comes in.
Expect To Take On Different Roles
How you and your partner respond to the crisis, and to each other, will greatly affect this experience. If one of you sits a cribside vigil while the other hates to visit the NICU, it can be a tough go. You may wonder, "Why is he so angry when I'm so sad?" or "Why is she accepting this when I can't?"
"You need to acknowledge that you have separate needs and may each take on different roles during this time," says Tesler Stein. My husband recalls wondering why he wasn't as worried about our tiny daughter as I was. "I'd be at work and get calls from the NICU and think, Why am I okay being here? I guess I didn't feel like our baby was ours yet. But these days if she scrapes a knee while playing it almost breaks my heart."