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Bringing Home Baby…Eventually: Experiencing the NICU

Every pregnancy has its ups and downs and is completely unique to each woman. When delivery day – or d-day – arrives there’s a wide array of emotions experienced with the highest of them being able to see and hold one’s baby boy or girl. In my case, make girl plural.

Many mothers look forward to taking their young one home within a couple to four days depending on their recovery but sometimes the baby needs extra special care and is whisked away to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This is never what one imagines as it delays time spent bonding at home and pushes the stress and worries over one’s head. However, many parents encounter the NICU experience. It’s estimated between 10 and 15 percent of babies born in the United States stay in the NICU, according to the website Parenting.com.

When I met my twins last November, the NICU was something I only heard of and never imagined my baby girls would enter. After all, there were no complications during the birth process and they were relatively healthy for being born just before 37 weeks. Nonetheless, I faced the ordeal of them being transferred to a different hospital and not taking them home as planned. My plans suddenly crumbled before my eyes as I learned to give up control while they were hooked up to wires.

Columnist Natalie Szrajer and daughter Ava.

For any mother or father who’s had to face the NICU, I understand what you’re thinking and experiencing for the most part. There are different levels of NICU including varying degrees to how long babies stay in the NICU.  My babies had a shorter stay compared to others. It’s not the ideal situation but there are ways to deal with it and plenty of people to talk with.

It is my desire that if anyone ever has to face the NICU or know someone who does that you approach it or them with compassion and understanding. Because frankly, it’s just hard. I’m so thankful for the dedicated and extraordinary medical professionals at Palmetto Health Parkridge and compassionate NICU team at Palmetto Health Baptist for helping take care of my babies while my husband and I coped.

Here are just a few tips for NICU parents from my own experience and conclusions. My hope is that parents reach out for support and courage because this is something no one should encounter alone.

First of all, it’s important to take care of yourself first. This is especially true for the mothers. If you don’t take care of your overall health now, the ability to take care of your baby once you all leave the hospital may suffer. The nurses and doctors are trained to take care of your baby so catch up on as much sleep as you can and eat well because the healthcare staff can’t come home with you! Make sure you step outside of the hospital for fresh air. It’ll help clear the clutter in your mind.

If any mother decides to nurse, be prepared to pump as often as you can. Sometimes moms may not be able to breastfeed a premature baby so pumping is the next best option. Consult with the hospital’s lactation team and ask when you’re unsure. Be prepared for a pumping schedule and it can be exhausting but worth it. By the way, if moms choose not to breastfeed know that it’s ok and ultimately your choice.

Cuddle. This is the easiest and most rewarding thing you can do for your baby’s health and well-being. Hold that baby and go skin-to-skin so they can hear and feel your heartbeat and your warmth. Trust me, there’s no better feeling.

Know when to ask for help. If you ever feel any of your daily or weekly responsibilities are slipping, reach out to your significant other or other family and friends for support. That is, if they haven’t reached out to you first. Oftentimes, good friends and family will ask what they can do to help. Tell them. Take them up on any offer they can help out with even if it’s just a listening ear. Make sure you stay in tune with your emotions as crazy as they may seem. If there are extreme thoughts racing through your head, it’s important to tell someone you trust.

Finally, keep hand lotion and lip balm close by at all times. You’ll be washing your hands a lot and the dry air will have you reaching for lip balm. Sometimes it’s the little things you don’t think about that you really need like your own bed. Hospital chairs and pull out sofas are not the most comfortable to sleep in so as hard as it is to leave your baby at night, sleep in the comfort of your own bed knowing that the nurses are trained to care for your baby and help bring him or her home quick.

In closing, my babies were blessed to come home but not all parents have the luxury of being able to take their loved one home as they face bereavement. Let the hospital staff help you find support and counseling you’ll need and take one day at a time.

Featured photo: Columnist Natalie Szrajer and daughter Ella.

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