All expectant parents dream about the day they take their baby home. But for the 1 in 10 babies born prematurely, that day comes after a sometimes very lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Confused and scared parents can benefit from practical tips to navigate their “new normal” in the NICU. Here are some of the top tips we’ve seen from parents who’ve been on a NICU journey, and the medical professionals helping them along the way.
- Keep a record: Record your baby’s medical care – write down daily stats for weight, feedings, new medical information, questions you may have, and the names of staff who attend to your baby. This can help give you a sense of control and order in an otherwise stressful environment.
- Ask for a primary nurse: A primary nurse can offer your baby continuous care, and because they will spend more time with your baby than other staff, they will be better able to detect if your baby is “off.” A primary nurse can also help facilitate better communication with other members of the medical team and keep you informed.
- Ask questions: It’s okay to ask your doctors and nurses questions about your baby. Also, don’t be ashamed to ask the same question again if you don’t understand the answer the first time. It’s important to understand your baby’s condition and care.
- Understand your baby’s nutritional needs: While your breast milk is vital for your baby, preemies need extra calories, protein, and nutrients to thrive. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends adding a “human milk fortifier” to mom’s own milk or donor milk. However, it’s important to know that not all fortifiers are made from human milk! Actually, many human milk fortifiers are made from cow milk, which has been known to increase the risk of severe complications in premature infants. Ask your baby’s care team about adding a fortifier made with 100% donor human milk from Prolacta Bioscience to your baby’s breast milk instead of the standard cow milk-based fortifier.
- Do your research: Compared to other medical fields, neonatology is fairly new. Research the latest interventions, technology, and nutrition that can help your baby thrive. Make sure you ask about research projects that the medical team is involved in
- Advocate for your baby: Trust your instincts. If your baby seems agitated for reasons other than what you are used to or seems different, tell a nurse or the doctor. You know your baby better than anyone else. Share your observations about your baby’s behaviors with your nurses. They are paying attention, too, but you have a different viewpoint that will be invaluable to rounding out the care your baby receives.
- Take photos: Take lots of photos no matter how sad you feel; you will want them for later.
- Practice kangaroo care: Most NICUs practice kangaroo care and want it to be safe for you and your baby to have this enjoyable experience. Inquire about kangaroo care from the earliest days in the hospital, but also realize that if your baby is unstable or very ill or is requiring high ventilator settings, you may not be able to practice kangaroo care. Your nurse will be the first to allow you to do it, so keep asking!
- Designate a point person: Give one trusted person the responsibility to share updates about your preemie’s progress with your friends and family. That way you can focus on being present with your baby.
- Stop feeling guilty: Don’t feel guilty if you can’t stay with your baby every day in the NICU. You have other responsibilities, and your baby has the best possible babysitters while you’re away. You can also ask your nurse if your hospital has a cuddler program. Cuddlers are vetted and trained personnel that can hold your baby when you can’t be by their side.
A stay in the NICU will never be an easy experience for any family but keeping this information in mind can help preemie parents make the best choices for their family.
These tips have been compiled by Prolacta Bioscience, the makers of the only human milk fortifier made with 100% human milk instead of cow milk. Prolacta produced this helpful information in cooperation with NICU families through Graham’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing NICU support resources for families, and attendees of the annual Graven’s Conference, which brings together medical professionals who work with high-risk infants.