A parent’s guide to life outside NICU

Life for parents in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be hard, but it isn’t always the hardest part of having a preemie. Sometimes it’s even harder for parents to leave the NICU and interact with the outside world while their baby is still at the hospital.
While it takes some time to get used to this, there are things that you can do to make your time away from the NICU easier on yourself. Don’t be afraid to handle this experience in a way that feels comfortable to you, too – only you know what helps and what is right for your unique situation.

Communicate with friends and family in the way that you want 

People are certainly allowed to ask about you and your baby, but you might not feel like you want to talk to people about these things, and that’s okay. Many parents find that it’s too overwhelming to constantly update the people in their lives, especially when they’re balancing time in the NICU. Right now is a time for taking care of yourself and being with your baby.
If you want to keep in touch with people in an efficient way, consider making a free website to post updates about how things in the NICU are progressing. No matter what, don’t feel bad not talking directly to people or setting limits about who can come into the NICU for a visit. These choices are yours to make.

Self-care is vital, and keeping yourself healthy needs to be a priority

You might not be able to imagine sleeping while your baby is in the NICU, but if a parent gets sick, he or she isn’t allowed in the NICU. Make sleep and good nutrition a priority right now so that you stay healthy and able to visit the NICU.

Call the hospital to check in

In the hours you’re not at the NICU, don’t be afraid to call the NICU and check on your preemie to see how things are going. The staff won’t mind filling you in, and if it makes you feel better, it’s worth doing.

Not everyone can – or wants to – be at the NICU all the time, and that’s okay

Different people feel differently. Some parents have a hard time leaving the NICU, while others need time to get away, take a break, and process things. There’s no right or wrong way to spend time in the NICU, and taking your own approach doesn’t make you less of a good parent.

Be wary about how much you research

Some parents want to stay on top of things and know what the doctors are talking about. Other parents don’t feel comfortable hearing the details. Know what kind of person you are and how much information you can handle. Consider buying a book about preemies, but be very careful about the time you spend on the internet.

Things might not seem fair or straightforward right now, but focus on the things that you can control, especially when it comes to your life outside of the NICU. In a way, you’re getting to know your baby sooner than other parents get to know theirs, and soon enough you’ll take them home for good.

  • “Becoming a parent in the NICU.” March of Dimes.  March of Dimes Foundation, 2016. Web.
  • “How to bond with your baby in the NICU.” Penn Medicine.  The University of Pennsylvania Health System, Oct 1 2015. Web.
  • “How you can participate in the care of your baby in the NICU.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015. Web.
  • Anne Smith. “Breastfeeding the premature baby: breastfeeding in the NICU.” Breastfeeding Basics. Breastfeeding Basics, 2016. Web.
  • Melinda Caskey, Bonnie Stephens, Richard Tucker, Betty Vohr. “Adult Talk in the NICU With Preterm Infants and Developmental Outcomes.” American Academy of Pediatrics, Vol 133 Issue 3. Web. 2014.
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