Leaving Baby at the NICU
A parents’ survival guide for when a preemie needs intensive care
Get Involved In Your Baby's Care
It's easy to feel like a useless outsider while the competent medical staff cares for your newborn. But your presence is terribly important. "I firmly believe that babies know the difference between a nurse's therapeutic touch and a parent's loving one," says Zaichkin. Perhaps most gratifying for parents is practicing "kangaroo care," a therapeutic-touch technique offered in some NICUs and practiced under the supervision of a nurse or doctor: The baby is carefully undressed and brought up underneath the parent's shirt, where she's held against Mom's or Dad's warm chest. "Research suggests that when an infant has skin-to-skin contact, specifically kangaroo care, he often has a more stable breathing rate and sleeps better," explains Zaichkin. One look shows how good it is for parents. As high-tech as the NICU is, a baby's success doesn't rely totally on technology.
While it'll be some time before you can bathe or diaper your baby, the valuable lessons of touch can still be learned, often with the guidance of a skilled nurse who specializes in newborns like yours. "From the beginning, the nurses encouraged us to touch Connor, and they showed us how to make skin-to-skin contact without overstimulating him," says Marybeth Roberts. Your deep involvement and contact will greatly benefit your baby.
Take Time To Know Your Baby
One of your major tasks is to start to make your baby truly your own, even when it feels like she belongs to the hospital. Although most parents become experts at reading the monitors attached to their baby, the staff urge parents to focus on the baby instead.
Watching your newborn is not only rewarding, it helps make you feel like a parent. "We made Connor ours by watching him and learning his little habits during his NICU stay," says Roberts. "We noticed how much food he could take at a time and how he liked having his diaper changed."
Just because your baby is in an incubator doesn't mean you can't both feel more at home. "Many parents find that when they begin dressing their child in something other than hospital T-shirts, it's a real emotional transition for them," says Tesler Stein. (Preemie-size clothes are sold at Babies "R" Us, BabyGap, and JCPenney; or by mail through the preemiewear catalog at 800-992-8469; and on the Preemie Store Web site at preemiestore.com.)
Parents can post photos of themselves and the baby's siblings outside the incubator. "The nurses said it would help our son know who we were," says Mayora Hiney, of Los Angeles, whose son Ciaran was born at 30 weeks and weighed only 1 pound, 14 ounces at his lowest weight. "The snapshot helped us feel okay about leaving him."