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Please don't let my baby die

Hudson Valley mom shares how she survived the NICU

Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of my baby being born prematurely. My son resembled a small doll weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces and measuring only 12.5 inches.

In a flash, he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and I was wheeled into a postpartum room sans bassinet and baby supplies. My empty arms ached as I watched other mothers cradling their bundles of joy.

Regardless of the severity of your child’s diagnosis, having a baby in the NICU can be a long road filled with many highs and lows. Here are a few tips to help you survive.

Ask questions — In order to advocate for your child and to fully understand their diagnosis, make sure you ask the medical staff all the questions that pop in your head. What medicine is my baby taking? Why does my baby have an IV? What are the alarms that keep going off?

If you find the information is becoming too much for you to remember, keep a notebook to record information about your child’s care. When random questions pop into your head at midnight, jot them down.

Know the schedule — I was not allowed in the room during shift changes, so I had to know what time the changes occured. Before each shift change, find out which nurse will be in charge of your child. This way, you’ll know whom to address concerns to. It’s a great idea to keep a list of nurses’ phone numbers handy in case you want to call for updates while you’re away.  Once you know what the NICU routine is, it will make it easier for you to plan your time.

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Learn the rules — Where do you scrub in? Does the NICU allow visitors? Are you allowed to bring in stuffed animals? If you want to be present during feeding time, bath time or weighing, find out your baby’s schedule and see if you can help with your baby’s care. Once my son was taking a bottle, I would inform the staff when I would be in so that they knew to wait for me to arrive before feeding him.

Touch often — Touch your baby as much and as often as you can. Preemies prefer a firm touch. Place your hand on your baby’s back and cup their head or hold onto their hand. Preemies benefit from kangaroo care. Don’t get down on yourself if your baby cannot tolerate being held for long periods of time. This in no way reflects your ability as a mother. The first time I held my son, he barely even tolerated a minute in my arms.

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Rent a pump — If you plan to breast feed your child, look into renting a hospital grade breast pump, given that you won’t have a newborn to stimulate your milk production 24 hours a day. Some hospitals will lend breast pumps to mothers of NICU patients, so ask to borrow a pump before making a purchase. If your hospital doesn’t offer that option, be sure to invest in a high quality, double pump. Some health insurance policies may cover the costs of borrowing a pump or investing in one of your own.

Be realistic — After sitting around in a hospital for days on end, you are likely not to be in the best of spirits. It is okay to feel sad and lonely. However, if you believe you’re feeling overly emotional be sure to speak with your OB/GYN. If someone offers to help you with meals or laundry, take them up on it. Remember to take care of yourself as you are still healing from childbirth.

The time spent in the NICU with your infant may seem like an eternity. After 94 days in the NICU, I was able to bring my son home. Now, he is an active and healthy one year old who continues to amaze us every day.


Jennifer Swartvagher is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and eight children.