Preparing for a NICU stay

As we prepare for the birth of our 4th child this coming April, we are also preparing for our second NICU stay. Our first time in the NICU, just over a year ago, was unexpected and overwhelming.

Today we have a sweet and healthy one-year-old (pictured below👇), who serves as a constant reminder that the suffering and struggles were totally worth it. I also came away from that NICU stay with a new understanding of how to improve the experience for me and my family, tips and tricks that I’ll be putting into practice this April:

1. Be your own (and your baby’s) advocate. This is hard when it feels like the doctors and nurses know so much more medically than you do (which they do); but the maternal instinct is also valid and if something is troubling you, SPEAK UP. For example, I was encouraged to stop breastfeeding Rosie during her hospitalization because it meant she had to be removed from treatment for 30-45 minutes at a time, as opposed to 5 minutes if the nurse bottle fed her. But—especially as a mom with PPD who has had trouble bonding with babies in the past—I stuck to my belief that breastfeeding through that time was critical to our longterm wellbeing as a family. And you know what? It turned out I did the right thing for us (we bonded beautifully), and on top of that, pulling her off her treatment for those chunks of time did not extend her hospital stay. Obviously your child’s situation/health will be different, so pulling them off treatment to nurse might not be possible: I’m not suggesting that you go completely against medical advice. Rather, what I’ve found (and what my husband, a physician, says) is that a patient who advocates for his/her needs, or has family who advocates for those needs, will almost always receive better patient care.

2. Prioritize YOUR spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. One thing I’ve learned from being a mama to multiple small children is that self-care is critical to you being the best mama you can be. Self-care is about making time to do the things that refresh and recharge you, and for me that means:

  • Putting God first. There is no hope for peace in my life if He is not number one each and every day. This means sticking to my daily prayer/spiritual reading routines, as well as going to daily mass when possible. While in the hospital last year, I even requested that the Eucharistic minister visit me daily (which they did in both labor & delivery and the mother baby ward!).
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible. Naps are not luxuries; naps are how I keep my PPD at bay.
  • Filling my waking hours with meaningful activities. Last year I spent my time in the hospital mindlessly surfing the internet. This did not fill me up; in fact, I’d say it drained me further. This time around I’m planning to bring some good books with me and have a line up of shows on Netflix/Amazon Prime (BBC’s new Little Women and possibly some Marie Kondo).
  • Planning ahead meals and snacks to keep me well-nourished in the hospital. While the hospital does provide a room for the “nesting” mom, they no longer provide meals for you once you are discharged. I learned last year that the hospital cafeteria is expensive and not very good, but thankfully there is a small fridge in which I can store my food. I plan to stock up on Chobani Yogurt Drinks and maybe some meats (honey baked ham anyone?), fruits and veggies. I might even make some meatballs ahead of time because I know I am going to be craving substantial, high-protein food.

3. Schedule dates with your husband. You and your spouse need each other’s support during a NICU stay, and that means being physically, mentally and emotionally present for each other. Resist the urge to switch into self-reliance survival mode, where you become ships passing in the night (my husband and I drifted into this territory too much last year). These dates may take place in the hospital–which is how they went for us last year–but are times when you can be alone just the two of you. Last year my husband would come visit me when the big kids were napping and/or in bed for the night. Sometimes we were too worn out to talk, but it was a comfort just being together. You might also consider planning some Netflix/Amazon shows for the two of you to watch, or pack a book for the two of you to read aloud together.

4. Family dinner every (possible) night. We made this a priority, and I don’t think we missed a night. Some nights this took place in my hospital nesting room, and some nights (especially when I needed fresh laundry, etc) I went home for 2 hours between Rosie’s feeds. This meal was critical quality time together; it was an anchor for everyone in our family during an otherwise turbulent time in our lives.

5. Schedule “dates” with your big kids. Last year I felt like I was drowning during our NICU stay, and one of my biggest regrets was relying too heavily on other people to support my older kids emotionally during that time. This spring I am planning to be more intentional about one-on-one quality time with my big kids while I’m nesting:

  • My (will be) 4 year old daughter: I’d love to watch A Little Princess and Annie with her, and also start reading Narnia or some Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m also planning some simple jewelry making crafts that we can easily do in the nesting room (like making friendship beaded bracelets).
  • My (will be) 3 year old son: I’d like to start reading a new Roald Dahl book with him. He loved James and the Giant Peach, so I’m leaning towards Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after reading this review. We’ll probably do some crafts as well—including the friendship bracelets (mother/son bracelets 😊💕) and I’ve been thinking about investing in some educational manipulative activities like this Scoop-a-Bug Sorting Kit.
  • My 1 year old daughter: This is harder to plan because she’s a girl on the go and a dirty hospital is not the best place for a toddler who wants to get into everything. Hopefully, since it will be April, we’ll be able to go for walks outside and have lunch together. I’m praying about this—let me know if you have any good ideas for things to do with a toddler in the hospital!
  • And, of course, breastfeeding dates with the newborn. 😉

So this is my game plan! If you’ve had a NICU stay, what did you learn form that experience? How would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?

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