No one expects to have their baby spend time in the NICU immediately following birth. But once the shock of your situation wears off and the reality of having a baby in the hospital sets in, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Asking questions is a great way to learn about your baby's needs and to figure out what you can do to help in their care. Here are 15 questions to ask when you're the proud parent of a NICU baby.
NICU doctors and nurses use medical terms all day long and can often forget that to the lay person, it sounds like they're speaking in another language. It's absolutely OK to speak up if you don't know what something means. They want you to be informed about your baby.
Most NICU teams have a daily meeting where they discuss your baby's prognosis, recent lab reports and next care steps. At many hospitals, parents are welcome to sit in and be part of the discussion. It's a great way to feel involved.
It's amazing how many parents think they can't hold their baby and how many nurses don't offer because they assume you already held them or don't want to. There are certain situations where no touching is the best option, but don't hesitate to ask if you can hold your baby, have skin-to-skin time or even attempt breastfeeding (most NICUs offer privacy screens if you'd like them).
Speak up if you'd like to help the NICU nurses check your baby's vitals, bathe them, feed or change them; after all, it's good practice for when Baby gets home. Most nurses have a set time when they perform these tasks — coordinate with your baby's nurse so you can be present and lend a helping hand.
Some hospitals will allow just one visitor or two, and many have strict polices regarding child visitors. The policies vary by hospital, however, so ask before anyone makes the drive to avoid disappointment.
Even at a few dollars a day, hospital parking can add up quickly. If there's no NICU parent option, ask about a long-term parking pass, which may offer some savings.
Not every NICU parent is lucky enough to have their baby be close to home. Some hospitals have a few overnight rooms with beds and a lottery system for parents to want to stay with their babies overnight. Even if there's no free lodging, many hospitals have a reduced-rate deal with a nearby hotel or can connect you with a local non-profit that offers free accommodations in people's homes.
If you form an attachment to a particular nurse, don't hesitate to ask if they can be assigned to your baby when on duty.
Once your baby gets the all-clear from the doctor, dressing them in teeny, tiny onesies is not only fun, it can help you feel more like you're a parent doing typical babycare things and not just a medical caregiver.
Some NICU parents sleep with a blanket or stuffed animal at night and ask to have it placed near or with the baby so they have their parent's scent nearby between visits.
Visiting nurses, occupational therapists or even public assistance may all be available to you once your baby is ready to graduate from the NICU and head home.
Being a preemie parent can come with a range of new emotions. It can really help to connect with those who are going through or have been through the same experience.
Not every preemie mom wants to breastfeed, and even those who do may find their preemie is unable to feed from the breast. Pumping will help build up and keep your supply going until Baby is able to latch on, and often breast milk can be given to Baby via a tube.
If you get alarmed any time your baby's monitors beep, ask the nurse if it's possible to direct the screens away from your line of sight while you hold and visit with your baby, so you can focus on bonding, not the beeps.
Knowing what health challenges may lie in store for your baby and when they'll come home can help you prepare for life after the NICU.
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