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The NICU: What Can You Expect at Your Stay

***I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice***

Why Might a Baby Be in the NICU?

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or the NICU is the place no parent wants to be, ever.

When I think of the NICU, I automatically think of premature babies, but not every baby in the NICU is premature.

The baby could have been a term baby, but maybe they needed surgery immediately following birth.

They could have an infection.

The baby might not be able to breathe on their own.

There are many reasons besides prematurity that a baby could be in the NICU.

Why Was Our Baby in the NICU?

First Baby G was in the NICU because she was 6 weeks early.

As I have discussed in this post, we were lucky enough to have been given the steroid shot for the development of her lungs.

So, she was NOT in there because she wasn’t able to breathe on her own.

Feeding our girl for the first time before the feeding tube.

However, Baby G was not able to regulate her own temperature, so she had to be in an incubator.

Early on, if we weren’t doing skin-to-skin, Baby G would need to be in the incubator, so her body temperature wouldn’t get too low.

She also had to have a feeding tube.  I am not a 100% clear on the reasons of this because this was during the first 24 hours, and I wasn’t able to see her just yet.  However, I believe it was due to her not eating anything from the bottle.

The feeding tube was a shot to the gut.  To me, it automatically meant we weren’t taking her home anytime soon.

She also had jaundice where she had to be under the lights for 2 days.  We were not allowed to hold her more than 30 minutes at a time each day.

As you can see, prematurity can be one reason why a baby is in the NICU, but it likely is not the only reason they are there.

How Long Will You Be in the NICU?

The night of delivery, the doctor told us Baby G would be in the NICU until her due date.  That means she would be in the NICU for at least 6 weeks.

Excuse me while I pick my mouth up off the floor.

The thing about the doctors and nurses in the NICU is they aren’t going to say you are going home next week if IT ISN’T HAPPENING.

Being told you are staying a minimum of 6 weeks is gut wrenching, but I would rather them tell me that then tell me we are going home in a week and have to stay longer because they were wrong.

Ultimately, I know I say this a lot, but how long your stay is in the NICU is strictly dependent on your situation.

There is a whole checklist of things to checkoff before your baby can go home.

Can Parents Spend the Night in the NICU?

We were not allowed to spend the night.  The hospital did allow us to come and go as often as we wanted to.  We could get there as early or as late in the day; it didn’t matter.

The first time I really got to hold my daughter it was 1 o’clock in the morning.

Our hospital did have a room you could stay with your baby when it was time to go home, so you could adjust and prepare.  Some parents are nervous or uncomfortable, and they need a day or two to get ready for their new normal.

There are parents who have babies who will go home with different apparatuses they will need to know how to clean and take care of.  I believe this is the purpose of the room at our hospital.

Visitation hours will vary by hospital.

Who Can Visit Your Baby in the NICU?

At our hospital, we were given a code that is specific to us.  The grandparents were given a code particular to them.

Only 2 people can go back with Baby G at a time.  We didn’t have to be there for the grandparents to go back, but we did have to be there if a non-family member wanted to go see the baby.

Again, I am sure there will varying rules at other hospitals.

Two Good Things from This Experience

The first thing is we were able to tour the NICU prior to actually going into the NICU.  If you remember from this post I had two rounds of blood pressure spikes due to pre-eclampsia.  So, no matter what, we knew our baby was going into the NICU.

Second thing, it gave me an opportunity to heal a little bit from my c-section something not every mom gets to do.  We have to find the positives, right.

And, if I am honest, there is a third thing this experience gave me.  It gave me a voice even through the crying and the hormones. Becoming a mom in this experience gave me a voice to stick up for my girl.

What Can You Expect While in the NICU?

You can expect to find some amazing nurses.  They will teach you the way, and then, they will let you do most of what needs to be done.

We had to take Baby G’s temperature every time we changed her diaper, so we were able to do that and report the temperature to the nurse.  We would also report diaper contents.

They taught us how to connect and disconnect her leads, the cords connected to the monitor for her heart rate, etc.

After a few days, I was able to start nursing her.  The nurses highly encourage skin-to-skin anytime you hold your baby.

Well, for us it was.  I am not sure how it works if your baby has to have a breathing tube or may have other complications.

Depending on the nurse, we could connect the food that she didn’t eat to her feeding tube.  But typically, the nurse would do this.

She had jaundice and had to be under the lights for 2 days.

You can expect alarms and endless noises when you are in the NICU.  Even if your baby isn’t hooked up to them, there are other babies in the NICU who are.

Expect to rarely see the doctors.  Sometimes you will see them around or you will catch them on rounds, but for us, it was rare to see the doctor.

If you want to speak with your doctors, simply ask your nurse when they do rounds and be there at that time.

So, get close with your nurses.

How Often Should You Visit Your Baby in the NICU?

I don’t need to tell you this, but do everything you can to be at the NICU as much as you can be.

During the week, I would get to the hospital around 7:30-8:00 in the morning and stay until about 1:00 pm.

I would go home to let the baby rest and get some rest myself.

My husband and I would go back to the hospital right after dinner and stay until 10 or 11 at night.

We were able to do this because I was on maternity leave, we live close to the hospital, and we have family close by.  I wouldn’t have been able to go as much otherwise.

The hardest part is leaving every time.  That doesn’t get easier.

Communication is Key

It is up to you to understand what is happening, why, and for how long.

Toward the end of our stay, we started feeling as if the day nurse and the night nurse would say two different things.

On top of that, the doctor would say something completely different.

We started to feel like we weren’t sure what was really happening particularly when it came to record keeping and if we would ever go home.

All we wanted to do was go home with our baby and have clear lines of communication.

Not All Nurses Are Created Equal

We had amazing nurses through 99.9% of our stay in the NICU.

I want to be clear there are some nurses out there who are set in their ways about things, and they don’t necessarily take you or your baby into consideration.

If you feel as if something isn’t right, QUESTION it!  Speak up!

Baby G holding our hands for the first time.

We had one day nurse and one-night nurse who we felt were over feeding our baby thus hindering our chances of going home.

They wouldn’t take into consideration what she was getting from nursing and then they would give her an entire bottle.

When she didn’t eat the whole bottle, they would then put the rest of the bottle through her feeding tube.

The nurse checks for residual food from her tube, undigested food, and having too much residual we were told at one point would not help her go home or get the feeding tube out.

We try to speak with each nurse, and when each nurse gave us the same answers, we went above their heads, and asked they not care for our daughter.

We had no issues before that or after that.

When Will You Get to Leave the NICU?

This will depend on your situation.

I cannot give you a timeline, and the doctors won’t tell you, you can go home until a day or two before.

They do NOT want to get anyone’s hopes up, and it not happen.

For us, Baby G had to be able to regulate her temperature, pass a car seat test, a hearing test, and eat without the feeding tube and sustain her weight.

When you have checked the boxes and the doctors and nurses are confident the baby will thrive at home, then you will be able to go home.

Advice for NICU Parents

I don’t have to tell you this because you will want to anyway.

However, be in the NICU as much as humanly possible.  I truly think it made all of the difference in our stay.  We were told we would be there for 6 weeks and were there for 2.

This might not be the case for everyone; it will depend on why you are there.

Don’t be afraid to talk to other NICU parents.  Invite them to dinner or lunch or breakfast even.

If you know you will be there for a while, start a tribe.

They can help you look after your little one and vice versa.  Having some one there who knows exactly what you are going through will help tremendously.

Invest in some scent free lotion because you are going to be washing your hands an awful lot.  My hands were red and bleeding from washing them so much.

Peace Out NICU! This was not staged. 🙂

If you are able to, hold your baby as much as possible.  Talk or read to your baby let them know you are there.

Embrace the tiny crocheted hats and the gifts people will bring in.

Lean on your spouse. Communicate with them. Let them be there for you or vice versa.  You guys are in this together.

Take a ton of pictures. As much as you will want to forget this time, you will want to see and remember how far your baby has come.

Include your doctors and nurses in your pictures.

Though she be but little, she is fierce. ~ Shakespeare

Our feisty NICU baby is thriving, and yours will too.

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