Image by David Quitorlano
By Jackie Scrivanich, Contributing Writer
When Plans Change
You find out you are pregnant and it is a joyous occasion. You are excited, and maybe a bit scared, as to what the future is going to bring your family. A baby is a big deal, but you can do it and you’re looking forward to it. As you prepare, you read things about birth and the first few months with a newborn. You research cloth diapers, attachment parenting, and baby led weaning. One thing most parents do not even think about is the possibility of being in the NICU with their newborn. Having to advocate for your baby in the NICU is not something that often crosses the minds of new parents.
Whatever the reason, having a baby go into the NICU is a very challenging experience. As a mother, you feel helpless, scared, worried, and just overwhelmed. What should be a joyous and wonderful time of family bonding and learning how to breastfeed together, is now a time of standing for hours on your feet, just staring at your tiny, precious baby. Some of you may not even be able to hold your child for days.
That is what my story looks like. My son was a planned homebirth but he wanted to come into the world early. We went to the hospital as a precaution. His lungs were not finished growing and he had to immediately be placed on oxygen, and eventually an invasive ventilator. I was unable to hold him for days and I was not able to breastfeed him until day four. Our NICU stay was very short compared to some other people’s stay, but I feel it had a lot to do with how actively I was advocating for my family.
When your baby is in the NICU, it literally can be life for death, so knowing what you can and cannot do as a parent is important.
Image by The Hudson Family
How to Advocate for Your Baby in the NICU?
Ask Lots of Questions
The nurses and the doctors are there to take care of your child and answer your questions. Your child’s care is 100% under your control. You need to be aware of what is going on, why, and if there are alternatives. It is easy to feel out of your depth when your baby is in the NICU, but remember that you are the parent. You are the only one qualified to determine what is best for your baby. Work with the nurses and doctors, you are very much an integral part of your baby’s team.
Do Everything You Can for Your Baby
If your baby is stable, you can be the one do change diapers, feedings (even if you are doing alternative forms of feeding like a tube), bathing, and such. Your care, your touch, is vital to your own self confidence and your child’s healing. Your touch is soothing to your child. Your voice, your smell, just you in general, is important to your child.
If You Do Not Feel Comfortable with Something, Speak Up
If you do not want your child to have a pacifier, speak up. If you do not feel you need to supplement with pumped milk after you breastfeed, speak up. If you want to use cloth diapers, speak up. The nurses and doctors are there to keep your baby safe, and as a part of that team you get a say. If you want something done a certain way, speak up because it is your child. You do not have to be rude, by any means, in fact being kind and when you discuss it with a nurse or doctor is very important.
Fight for Your Child to Get Out of the NICU as Soon as Possible
Determine from the beginning when the doctor does his or her rounds each day. Be there, ask questions, meet one-on-one if you can. Express to the doctor the support you have at home and that you would like to go home as soon as you can with your baby. Obviously, it is important to ensure that baby is stable and doing well and is ready to go home.
I understand that there are times when you have to go home or even have to work during an extended NICU stay, but do your best to be there as often as you can. Hold your baby as often as you can. Do skin-to-skin, nurse on demand, etc. Being there does so much for your child’s health and for the NICU staff to see how dedicated and serious you are about putting your child first.
NICU stays are hard on everyone involved. Emotions are high. Worries can consume you if you do not keep them in check. The staff is there to help. Actively be a part of the team that is working together to get your baby healthy. Do all this and you can successfully advocate for your baby in the NICU.