NICU Awareness Month
The Miracle Babies Foundation have dedicated the month of November as NICU Awareness Month. This will include world maturity day on 17 November.
You have just found out your baby will need to be admitted to NICU. Whether this is a planned admission or the result of an emergency and still fills any parent with fear and dread. It is an emotional time with many questions. Hopefully reading this may answer some of them.
So, what is NICU?
The ‘NICU’ - Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is the area in the hospital that has specialised staff and equipment to care for sick or premature newborn babies. There are a few reasons why your baby may be admitted to a NICU;
- Multiple births
- Low birth weight
- Complication at birth such as baby needs surgery, breathing problems or infection.
There will be a team of specialised healthcare professionals looking after your baby around the clock. This will include nurses, neonatologist doctors that specialise in newborn babies, physiotherapists, social workers and many more. Your first and main point of contact for most is likely to be your bedside nurse. These nurses have been trained and educated on all aspects in caring for your baby. This includes the life-saving equipment and is undoubtedly very overwhelming for most parents. The nurses will be able to explain the different ways in which it is helping your baby. This may alleviate some of your concerns.
Babies in NICU easily pick up infections. Good hand washing practice is very important for this reason. The use of an anti-bacterial hand wash is strongly recommended. Most hospitals are family friendly and allow parents to visit any time. You will need to check the hospital's policy on visitors in NICU. If you or someone else, you know is feeling unwell you should talk to the staff before visiting. Loud noise and bright lights can overstimulate a premature baby. Therefore, most NICU's try to maintain a calm peaceful environment. Some even having periods where the lights are dimmed. Clustering care which is just a fancy way of saying doing a few things at the same time is a great way to limit the overstimulation of your baby. For many parents the NICU environment can be isolating. The nursing staff will strongly encourage you to participate in all aspects of your baby’s care. This will help you both bond; don't worry the nurse is there to help and guide you every step of the way. Depending on your situation you may be able to kangaroo care or skin to skin. This is when your baby is placed directly on to your chest. This has many benefits for both parents and baby including temperature regulation, weight gain and breast milk supply.
An admission into NICU whether planned or as an emergency can still leave you with feelings of isolation and helplessness. Being actively involved in babies care is a great way of reducing some of these feelings for both parents. A unique way for mothers is being able to provide breast milk. The breast milk of mothers with premature babies has a different constitution. It is higher in protein and minerals and contains a more digestible fat than that of a full-term baby. Many premature babies are not able to breastfeed and will require tube feeding to start with. It is important to establish well breastfeeding soon after birth. If your baby is unable to be breastfed in the beginning, you will need to express.
Most hospitals have dual, hospital grade electric breast pumps. These pumps will vary depending on their brand. The Ameda Platinum pump is a dual pumping hospital grade pump. Unlike other programmable pumps that have a limited number of possible suction and speed combinations the Ameda Platinum provides thousands of setting combinations for maximum comfort. The Ameda Comfort Flow technology has been designed to mimic a baby's natural suckling while providing maximum comfort for you. This is a win-win situation, more milk, more comfort.
Another concern some may have when they are sharing a hospital breast pump is cross-contamination. Ameda has come up with a solution to address those concerns. It has the world's only proven airlock protection in its HygeniKit system. The unique barrier protects the breast milk from potential contaminants such as bacteria or viruses. It will also protect the pump and tubing. Unlike other milk collection systems, the Ameda HygeniKit eliminates the need for washing any tubing where mould is most likely to be found. You may need to look at purchasing or hiring a good quality hospital grade breast pump for the times when you are home. This will ensure supply is maintained. It would be best to contact a lactation consultant if you have any questions or concerns about pumping or your milk supply.
How to cope
It is a life changing experience when the baby is admitted to NICU. This emotional rollercoaster will be full of ups and downs. The feelings of separation and helplessness can be overwhelming for parents You need to remember that you are the parent.
Building a bond as soon as you can is important. It will depend on your baby’s situation to the amount of direct contact that can be had. The nursing staff will be able to discuss and help you with this. Just holding a hand can make the world of difference Skin to skin contact or even kangaroo care are great ways to bond. And has many benefits for the baby and parent. Again, talk to your nurse about exploring these options.
Reading a book, talking or even singing to your baby can be soothing and is a great way for the baby to recognise your voice. Bringing personal items, such as blankets can make it feel more homely and relaxed. heck that the hospital policy allows this. There are often many hours sat beside your baby's cot. This can be lonely and isolating times.
A good support group of friends and family can be very important in these times. They may however not fully understand what you're going through. This is where the other parents or support groups can really help. If at any time you feel completely overwhelmed, remember it’s ok to ask for help. The nursing staff will be able to assist you with this. It can be a confusing and at times upsetting for other children you may have. It may be helpful to explain the reason why the baby is staying at the hospital. Trying to include the other children can also be helpful.
Many parents gets so absorbed in the care of their baby that they forget to look after themselves. This is very important, especially if your breastfeeding. Taking regular breaks and getting outside for a walk may make you feel better and alleviate some of the boredom. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting some exercise is important and may even decrease stress. YourNICU journey will have many ups and downs. Remember to take one day at a time and ask for help when you need it. You will make it though.
Resources: Pregnancy, Birth and Baby; Raising children.net; BellyBelly