Written by: Joanne Lowe
For most women, having a baby is a joyful (if somewhat painful) experience with a short stay in hospital if there are no complications for mother and baby. Others aren’t so lucky. Sometimes there are problems during labour or health issues are detected before birth which means a stay in hospital for your newborn. How do you cope when your baby is in hospital?
Look Into Hospital Facilities
If you know before delivery that your baby will need to spend some time in an NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), and have a choice of hospitals, then research them. Find out which site has the best facilities before deciding where to give birth. If you’re having twins or have a history of preterm deliveries you may need to consider this. Find out how the unit runs and ask for a tour. For example can parents stay with their babies round the clock and can older siblings visit.
An Emotional Roller coaster
Prepare yourself for a range of emotions once your baby arrives. You’ll probably feel intense joy that your baby is here mixed with anxiety over their health. At times you may feel jealous towards other mothers whose babies are born without complications. Remember its fine to feel sad about the overwhelming situation you are in so don’t put on a brave face all of the time.
Draw On Support
You may find it hard to relate fully to friends and family who have never had a sick baby so take support from others around you. The hospital may have support groups for children in NICU. If your child is in hospital for a long time, you’ll probably develop friendships with other parents who are going through the same thing.
Bond With Your Baby
You can still connect with your baby even though they are in an incubator. You can ask to change a nappy or give your baby a bath. Reading to your baby will help with bonding, and don’t forget to take pictures. It may not be the start every parent wants, but it is part of your child’s journey. You would take photos of your newborn from day one at home, so why not in hospital.
Get To Know The Doctors
Getting to know your baby’s doctors will help. You’ll feel better placed to ask questions about their progress if you feel comfortable with the people looking after them. Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations in layman’s terms as medical jargon can be confusing. If you can’t stay with your child all the time try to get to the hospital before the nurse on duty finishes work. This will mean you can talk to the person who has been looking after them, not the nurse who has taken over for the day.
Look After Yourself
It is easy to forget yourself when you are spending night and day at your baby’s bedside and are in the daily cycle of travelling to and from hospital. Getting as much sleep as possible will help you to cope with your emotions and manage stress. Make sure you are eating properly as skipping meals will only make you weaker and leave to open to sickness.
Prepare For Breastfeeding
Most babies in NICU are fed through a tube at first, but if you want to breast feed you can start to build up your supply after your baby is born. You can practice kangaroo care where you hold your baby skin to skin on your chest for several hours and then use a breast pump to take off milk. Experts claim kangaroo care can also maintain the baby’s body warmth, regulate heart and breathing rates, and help them to gain weight.
Personalise Your Space
If the hospital agrees, personalise the space your baby is in with family photos, a few soft toys, and a colorful blanket. Dress your baby in the clothes you had ready at home, but bear in mind outfits will have to accommodate the wires hooked up to your baby.
Ease some of the strain on yourself by accepting the help of others. If someone wants to cook you a casserole or do the housework while you’re at hospital then let them. It all helps after a draining day on the ward. Let relatives have your other children stay over, it will give you and your partner a break. Remember if you have had a c-section you won’t be able to drive so you may need to ask for help in getting to and from hospital. Family and friends will probably want to help out so don’t be too proud to take them up on their offers.