1. Be Prepared
The trauma parents experience when they must admit their baby into a NICU is compounded when it arises unexpectedly. We recommend that all expecting parents identify the different levels of NICUs in your area (Level IIIC being the highest) and emergency transport teams that are available. Complications may arise with even the healthiest pregnancies. Being prepared with a "just in case" plan will empower parents to make educated decisions for their baby, eliminating much of the confusion and fear and may decrease the chances of PTSD.
Active participation in a baby's care in the NICU can give parents a sense of purpose and comfort. Parents should ask their NICU team what activities they might be able to assist with. From providing doctors with insight into their baby's reactions to changing a diaper, simple tasks are as important for babies as it is for parents' well being.
By proactively creating bonding opportunities can with their baby, parents often experience less stress in the NICU. Various techniques are recommended to encourage bonding including Kangaroo Care (a skin-to-skin holding technique), learning to read cues, creating a scrapbook and pumping or donating breast milk. This feeling of bonding will help parents create a positive emotional attachment to their baby and prevent PTSD.
Speaking to other parents of NICU graduates can provide immense comfort for parents. Most hospitals have family ambassadors who can be matched with families with babies who faced similar medical challenges. Parents should ask their doctor or nurses to be matched with a family who may be able to share their NICU journey.
Parents should speak candidly about their emotions with their NICU doctors and nurses. They will be able to recommend individual programs and support groups to help cope with the experience of having a baby in the NICU. Some NICUs have child life specialists on staff to assist families In addition, they may be able to provide a referral if a mental health specialist is recommended.
Transitioning from life in the NICU to life at home with a newborn is often when parents struggle the most. By planning ahead, parents can ease some of the stress associated with the transition. Parents should identify a medical team in their area that will be able to care for the baby after leaving the hospitals and speak with the NICU staff about any at home safety precautions recommended to be in place for the baby.
Ranked #7 nationally for neonatology by U.S.News &World Report, Texas Children's Hospital is the leader in the Southern United States in the treatment of babies born complications or prematurely. The physicians at Texas Children's Newborn Center are international leaders in neonatology and neonatal surgery. Texas Children's Newborn Center is home to one of the largest Level IIIC neonatal intensive care units in the country and is committed to providing premier, complete treatment for newborns in need. For more information, visit www.texaschildrens.org.
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