Having a baby in the Neonatal Unit of a hospital can be extremely frightening.
There is the worry and anxiety you will feel for your child; the equipment, beeping and language that makes absolutely no sense; the hormonal changes that having a baby can bring, the stress from demands at home. Basically, the experience can seem surreal and daunting.
While nobody wants to prepare for their baby to be admitted to a special care baby unit, in my experience, nothing kicks fear in the butt like proper planning. So here are a few things to expect and plan for … just in case
- There will be a lot of wires and beeping – Your baby, and the other babies in the unit may be connected to monitors and other equipment. Ask your child’s nurse to explain the purpose of the equipment, what is monitoring and when to be worried, so you can relax and focus on your child. If possible, visit the unit beforehand so the environment is slightly familiar when your baby is admitted.
- Get involved: Your baby will look so fragile and delicate and it is normal to be afraid to touch your baby. But after the many months in the womb, you are the most familiar thing to your baby and your baby will find comfort in familiar noises and smells. Ask the nurses for ways you can safely stroke, cuddle and provide kangaroo care for your baby. When appropriate get involved in feeding, changing and dressing your baby. This is a perfect for both dads and mums to bond with their babies and help them through a tough time.
- Ask questions: Many parents tell me they feel invisible while their child is being discussed on the ward round. Please don’t; most nurses and doctors are more than happy to share your child’s progress with you. So feel free to ask questions and be part of the decision-making process. Don’t be afraid to ask the same question again, it is easy to forget things when everything is so new and scary.
- Take a camera and keep a record of progress. The time in the neonatal unit will fly by and quickly fade into blurred memories once you are home. Even if things seem terrifying and sad in the moment, taking photos and writing a diary is a great way to celebrate your baby’s strength and progress through this journey. It is also a great way to involve your friends and family who are unable to visit. Nominate one person that keeps everyone else updated, so you don’t have to repeat yourself all the time.
- Leave lists and post-its around the house. Many friends and family want to help but do not know what to do. Leave lists, routines and label cupboards with post-its so they can take care of things at home while you focus on the baby. Send out the lists of tasks to a group of friends and let them sort out what they are able to do for you, so you don’t feel like you are always asking for favours.
- Find support: With your baby being so intimately connected with both parents it is important to regulate your stress and emotions by having people to talk to and support you. Identify friends who are good listeners or reach out to an anonymous helpline like Tommy’s. Don’t forget to laugh. It is, after all, the best medicine!