Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NICU Strong: How to Help Your NICU Baby

By: Christine Cox, The Choosy Mommy

My baby, Cam, is almost 7 months old now (actually he’ll be 7 months on Christmas Day!) He has come a long way since he was born 7 weeks early due to me having HELLP Syndrome. You can read more about his birth on HELLP Syndrome: Knowing About It Could Save Lives.

Cam spent 13 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). These were the hardest 13 days my husband and I ever experienced. But they were the first 13 days of Cam’s life and we had to be strong for him.

Luckily we had a team of wonderful doctors and nurses caring for Cam when we couldn’t be there. We made sure we saw him every day but couldn’t be there 24/7 because my husband still had to run his business and I still had to care for my then 2 year old daughter, Capri, at home.

I learned a lot about premature babies in those 13 days. Those two weeks opened my eyes to a whole new world of experiences and firsts – especially as a parent of two children now. And this sensitive time in my life broke me because it was so hard to see the other tiny babies in the NICU just fighting for a chance to live…any parent’s fear. I realized that we take a lot of things for granted, like assuming that infants know how to eat, breathe, swallow and suck and to do some of those things simultaneously! I prayed for Cam to learn as fast as he could to do all of those things just so he could come home sooner but I knew he would learn at his own pace.




We all feel helpless in these kinds of situations because the baby’s fate is usually out of our control. But in case you or someone you know ever becomes a NICU parent, here are some tips for managing this experience.

Eat Healthy - At Choosy Kids, we talk about eating healthy all of the time, but at this point in Cam’s life, he was just learning HOW to eat. Since he was born at 33 weeks, he was supposed to just be learning how to do those things in the womb, but instead, he was forced to learn them on the outside. It was amazing to watch him learn how to do this with the help of medical equipment, his doctors and nurses, but I needed to help too. Eating was a big deal for him. For some reason, he wasn’t able to digest the formula they were giving to him in the beginning (I didn’t even start to pump yet because I was still recovering). But once he got breastmilk, his body adjusted and was able to digest it a lot better. I had to watch what I ate to ensure I was providing the best for him through my milk and still to this day have to watch my dairy intake, as it doesn’t agree with him. The most important thing a mom can do is to FEED the new infant, whether by breastmilk or formula, to establish an early loving relationship. But if you are breastfeeding, make sure you eat a healthy diet and up your calorie intake as suggested by your doctor to ensure you are sharing enough calories with your baby. Also remember to drink a ton of water – you’ll need it!

Just Breathe - Cam also had to learn to keep breathing while he was eating. There were a couple of times that he had bradycardias, or heart rate dips, while he was eating but we were lucky in that he pulled himself out of them. Some babies need to be touched to be reminded to breathe again. “Bradys,” as they call them in the NICU, are quite common. Unfortunately, every time a baby has one, he/she had to stay in our NICU another 5-7 days for monitoring (situation could vary depending on location). This was the hardest thing for me because every morning when I would call to check on him, I prayed he didn’t have a brady because I knew it would just add on extra days to his stay. As a parent, you need to remember to just breathe too. Babies can sense a lot of emotions so if parents are tense and stressed while visiting their NICU infant, they will sense those feelings. Take time throughout your day to just decompress, let out your feelings and just breathe deep.

Be Strong - As a parent, there is only so much I can do with a child in intensive care, but I knew I had to be strong for Cam, Capri, and my husband because they were just as much as part of this experience as I was.  To me, being strong meant looking forward to tomorrow as it was one more day closer to Cam coming home. Being strong meant not blaming myself for his early birth because it was out of my control. And finally, being strong meant just being there for him. Holding him, bathing him, even putting clothes on him…these seem like minor things, but he was so little so I had to be confident in my abilities and tell myself that I had the strength to do these things for him.

If you are currently a NICU parent, there are many resources available for you at the hospital. Talk to the nurses and social workers about your situation to ensure you are NICU strong. Choosy Kids also has a CD for babies called Our Special Time. The focus is on daily routines and active learning for early brain development and body awareness, which is perfect for all babies!

Additionally, if you are pregnant, learn more about HELLP Syndrome so you know the warning signs.

I’d love to hear your NICU strong story if you were in this situation. And even if you had an uncomplicated birth experience, how did you overcome any early issues with your new infants – whether it was eating, sleeping, etc. We are all parents so we are in this together!

About the Author: Christine Cox is the blog master and The Choosy Mommy for Choosy Kids. She has always had a passion for writing and is honored to contribute her work to this blog. Most of her writing inspiration comes from her daughter, Capri, who is fun-loving and full of energy, and newborn son Cam. Click here to learn more about Christine.

51 comments :

  1. Being strong means looking to the future as opposed to the now, esp. if its not what we want to focus on. Focusing doggedly on how you want things to pan out with a gratitude attitude. Glad yo lilun is doing okay. I never knew about NICU at all eitehr so thanks for sharing!

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    1. I always had to look to the future with Cam. I literally felt like I was chasing 'tomorrow' for the chance to bring him home. We only got told the day before he left that he could go and even that could've changed if he had a Brady that night/morning before we got there. Thanks for your kind words.

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  2. I can't even imagine how hard this must be on the whole family! I am glad you were able to share your experience and tips with people going through it.

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    1. It even affected 2 year old Capri at the time as she didn't understand where I was all of the time and why she always had to go to grandma's house. But we made it through and even Capri understands a bit more now that he's home.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story Christine :) I can not even imagine having to go through this.....I know it has to be difficult.
    So happy that all turned out awesome :) Always great to hear!

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    1. I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone. You are flat out helpless and it is hard to be strong but somehow you manage!

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  4. What a story! Being strong is hard... We've been in the PICU a few times- it never gets easier.

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    1. I can't imagine going back to a PICU situation. How hard that must have been for you and your family.

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  5. Your story is a ray of hope to many families who all have been going through this. Hats off to you for being so strong in your tough times. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story.

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    1. Awe thank you Ana! Just always trying to share from my experiences in case I can help one person!

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  6. I'm going to send this to a friend of mine who currently has a baby in the hospital. She's been in and out of the NICU over the past week. Thank you for posting.

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    1. Please tell your friend to take everything day by day as situations can change in a blink of an eye. My thoughts are with her.

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  7. I've never experienced this in my life, but I know it's difficult for parents who go through it. There's so much emotional stress to bear, I'm glad you got through it just fine and that all is well.

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    1. And some days I still stress and struggle with the fact he was there because my body basically kicked him out but luckily for us, everything turned out OK!

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  8. This is wonderful advice. My son was also born early and had to spend time in the NICU. It was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. Thank you for sharing

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Doesn't it feel like we are part of a club now? We got to experience what happens behind those doors that they keep so tightly closed?

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  9. My grandson was born 4 weeks ago and we're very thankful he was healthy. I can't imagine the stress created by having a premature baby but having an awesome team of doctors and nurses and a good support system helps a lot, I'm sure.

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    1. Congrats on your new family member. Babies are so fragile yet so strong. It was really hard for me but I knew Cam would be fine :)

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  10. I cannot imagine how stressful it would be to have your newborn in the NICU. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Like headache everyday stressful. I can still cry on the spot just thinking about it!

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  11. This is a great blog post. I can't imagine what parents go through in this situation. I'm sure any advise is helpful.

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    1. Thanks! Hopefully my tips help at least one person!

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  12. I have never experienced this. I'm sure it's difficult for the family. Being strong is very important.

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    1. And I hope you never do experience it. It is a whirlwind of emotions everyday.

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  13. Hi Christine, I enjoyed reading your post it was very touching story, this could be help others.

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  14. I had a complicated birth with my third child. It's so scary. I'm glad you and your baby are doing good

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  15. These are great tips! I had a NICU baby and was pretty scary.

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    1. I'm sorry for your experience :( the NICU is so sad and scary.

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  16. This was so enlightening. I never realized how much full-term babies are prepared to do that preemies have yet to learn. I can't even imagine what you went through in those 13 days.

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    1. It was amazing learning how quickly they learn to do things in the womb! Life on the outside is definitely harder.

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  17. Awe, how amazing is that! So happy you had a supportive team of docs, family and that everything turned out well. It's amazing what they can do now a days. I've had so many friends end up having to spend some time in the NICU and come out with similar success stories. It's just amazing!

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    1. Our doctors and nurses were amazing! I would thank them everyday if I could.

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  18. I heard preemies have to go through a lot. So glad that Cam is a fighter and you had a supportive team of medical professionals.

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    1. Luckily Cam didn't need oxygen so he did better than most right off the bat but yes, preemies have it pretty hard.

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  19. I totally agree that you have to be strong. I had a friend who had a daughter in NICU and it was so hard for us as we were close but I had to be strong to keep her spirit up for her kid too.

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    1. Good for you for sticking by her during her time of need!

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  20. Thanks for sharing this story. It takes courage to write about this and come out in the open.

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  21. What a beautiful story and congrats on 7 months for your little one. We have friends and relatives that have gone through this. It's so tough but also a really good way to encourage others with your experience.

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    1. Thanks! We count our blessings everyday!

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  22. I can imagine that must have been a really tough experience for your family. Fortunately, you can all look back at it now and inspire others going through the same thing.

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    1. Exactly why I decided to share some of my key takeaways from my experience. If I can help just one person than I've met my goal.

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  23. I think you know our story, but we were in the NICU for 91 and 93 days. The first days/weeks were almost like a blur, and it never really got any easier to go there. I also had a 2 year old at home at the time, and he didn't understand why I was at the hospital all the time or why he couldn't see his brothers. I think you gave some great advice, and I'm so glad your sweet son is at home now.

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    1. Oh yes, I know your story well. I remember my mom saying that I better write in his baby book when he came home because I might forget he was in the NICU for 13 days and I said I doubt I'll ever forget and you and many others have proved that it is a number I won't forget.

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  24. Hey Christine,

    I really enjoyed your insight into how you managed these 13 days. I bet they were long. I could not imagine how strong you had to be on a number of levels and yet feeling so stressed for so many other reasons. What I did take from this and thought it was a really important factor. Was not blaming yourself for an early baby. Sounds like your little miracle wanted his presence felt regardless of being ready for the world. Very powerful story.

    Rachel.

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    1. Not only was I on the go all day, traveling to see Cam but I was alsotaking care of Capri at home but I was also recovering from my c section and pumping every 3 hours so I could supply milk for him. Boy was I tired and my newborn wasn't even home!

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  25. Sounds like a very tough time for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your touching story to help others who are going through similar situations.

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  26. NICU was so good to my nephew and his wife. They gave them a cheap place to stay within walking distance to the hospital even .It was all very appreciated.

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