First Years Lessons - Vol. 1, No. 2
Surviving the Hospital Stay April 17, 2020
As you might have guessed, this article applies primarily to families who are still in the hospital-stay phase of their parenting adventure. If you’ve already experienced the joy of “Discharge Day”, YOU are also a great resource to families currently in the thick of it! One thing that seems to hold true is that NICU families are a tribe–even after your tiny babies are grown and having babies of their own, this unique experience ties you to others who have been through the same thing. So, what are some key takeaways to make a difficult hospital stay just a little bit easier?
Communication is key!
You’re tired, you’re overwhelmed, and you’re living in a hospital. Any and all of these would make it really easy to retreat down a rabbit hole, but that’s why it’s crucial to maintain open dialog with all of the people whose job it is to be in your corner:
1) Your Clinical Care Team
- Your clinical care team are a vital part of your journey, with a specific mission in mind – to care for your baby. Communication is the best way to make sure you and your baby are getting what you need.
- Ask questions and get clarification – Writing down questions as you think of them will make you less likely to forget when you’re in a sleep deprived fog. And remember…you’re not a doctor, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about what the medical jargon means. Always do your best to fully understand the answers being provided. This will help solidify a great working relationship with your care team.
2) Your Partner or Support Person
- Whether this is your spouse, your mom, or your best friend, this person is one of the most important to your success (and sanity) in the NICU. This was the person rubbing your back, cheerleading you through the birthing process, and was by your side to welcome your new baby into the world. Anyone whose been around a laboring mama might say they deserve a medal. The next best thing is being open and honest with them about how you’re feeling, and allowing them to do the same. Remember, if they’ve been sticking it out in the NICU, they’re most likely just as exhausted and overwhelmed as you are. If there was ever a time for some mutual patience and grace, it’s now.
3) Your BABY!
- Of course! Your newest reason for being, and source of immeasurable joy and love (and exhaustion) to get you through until discharge day, and every day after that. Research says that talking, singing, and reading to your baby is incredibly important to their growth and development, and that is even more true for preemies. It helps them recognize and bond with you as their parent. If you’re at the point where you can hold your baby, skin to skin contact (also known as Kangaroo Care) is also an excellent way to communicate. You will literally get ‘all the feels’, and it will be incredibly therapeutic for BOTH of you!
Be an active member of the team
You are the most important person in your baby’s world, and their primary advocate. Be present, learn all you can, and engage with the care team as much as possible to support your baby’s well-being. If a situation arises related to your baby’s care that you are not comfortable with, be prepared to address it positively, as an opportunity to learn, as opposed to negatively, as a complaint.
Be Respectful and Be Respected
- Rules and Routines of the NICU – These are in place with the SOLE PURPOSE of protecting your baby’s health and well-being. I know it’s overwhelming, especially during the current health crisis, but just try your best to keep that in mind. The more diligent you are, the better your baby’s outcome will be. Some things in particular to remember:
- Limit the use of nicotine or e-cigarettes, perfumes, scented shampoos, and detergents. All of these will follow you into the NICU, and can be overwhelming to your baby’s respiratory system.
- Speak in soft tones and avoid utilizing speaker phone. It is incredibly tempting to FaceTime with all of your loved ones who can’t see the baby in person right now, but just remember that the ears of your little one and the little ones around you are very sensitive.
- Remember to wash your hands! Especially now, it is very important to maintain good personal hygiene. Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and avoid contact with ANYONE who could be ill.
- Other NICU Families – It may feel like you’re on an island, but remember that there are people around you experiencing a version of the same journey. Use the commonality to bond with other parents and develop a network of support. You’re sharing a lot of the same space right now, and having an ally might help eliminate some of the awkwardness. Always be mindful of personal boundaries, but don’t be afraid to make a friend.
- Yourself – Remember that you deserve respect. You should always feel comfortable advocating for yourself and your baby. Speak up if you have questions or concerns, or if you feel like your baby’s needs are not being met in a timely manner.
- The NICU Staff – Respect must be mutual. Just as you deserve respect, your care team does as well. Understand that while your responsibility is to your baby, the NICU team is responsible for MANY babies, all with varying degrees of need. A little bit of perspective can go a long way, so try your best to understand the demands on those around you when interacting, especially during times of frustration.
Sleep when you can, where you can!
- Get creative – Most of the baby’s rooms have couches in them, and if the cushions are manipulated just right, an average sized person may be able to sleep comfortably. Don’t be afraid to move things around (within reason, and with permission) to make yourself more comfortable.
- Call in reinforcements – Do you have a favorite blanket or pillow at home? Talk with a care team member about seeing if you can arrange for a friend of family member to bring it to you, along with a few other small items that might make you feel more at home in the hospital room.
- Ask for what you need – It’s no secret that hospital pillows and blankets are a little different than a five star hotel, but they’re certainly better than nothing! If you aren’t able to access some of the comforts of home, ask a member of the care team what they have available for you to use during your stay.
The First Years program is made possible by a grant from AbbVie through RMHC Global. Classes are currently being taught via e-Newsletter while our Ronald McDonald House remains under restrictions because of COVID-19. We encourage you to share this post with anyone you feel might benefit, as we continue doing our part in helping families make the most of the medical care their children are receiving.