Every new parent experiences a flood of new emotions on delivery day. While these feelings often include a blend of excitement, nerves, and joy, delivery day is almost always a day of celebration. However, learning your baby is headed to the NICU upon delivery is incredibly tough for new parents. At Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers, we believe that with the right support and information, the days after delivery should be filled with joy, even if your loved one is in the NICU. Throughout this page, our birth injury attorneys, nurses and professionals will address the many questions, concerns and emotions new NICU parents feel. We’ll share a few coping tips for parents in the NICU to help you and your loved ones stay composed, strong, and positive during your baby’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.
10 Coping Tips for Parents in the NICU
1. Interact with your newborn as much as possible
The first few days of life is a critical bonding period for newborns and their parents. Several research studies have proven the benefits of both physical and non-physical bonding between parents and their newborn babies. For instance, kangaroo care is the skin-to-skin contact between newborns and their parents that, according to research, has vast emotional and developmental benefits for infants. Spending time with an infant in the NICU is particularly treasurable, so parents are encouraged to get creative with how they bond with their baby. Ask the NICU nurses and doctors if you can hold, massage, feed or interact with your newborn. When parents can’t directly touch their babies, many choose to read to them, speak or sing to them, or even decorate their living spaces.
2. Take care of yourself
It is unfortunate how often new NICU parents fail to practice self-care while their babies are in the neonatal intensive care unit. Many parents forget to take care of themselves because they are so worried about their child’s health. Others feel guilty or selfish for taking the time to care for themselves. Whatever the instance may be, it is absolutely critical for parents to prioritize their personal health while their baby is in the NICU. In order to alleviate feelings of panic, fear, guilt, and anxiety, parents must get sleep, take personal time, exercise, eat properly, spend time with family and friends, and take breaks from the NICU. By releasing negative emotions, parents can confront the challenges of the NICU with healthy, clear minds and renewed strength.
3. Acquaint yourself with your surroundings
In order to understand your surroundings more fully, it’s helpful to tour the NICU and the hospital before and after delivery. Hospitals will allow you to schedule tours of the NICU, delivery rooms, and other facilities. Touring the hospital and NICU facilities will help you to feel more comfortable during your baby’s first days of life, particularly for families with high-risk pregnancies.
4. Seek help from others
No new parent should shoulder the weight of caring for a newborn baby alone. This is exponentially more important for new parents with a baby in the NICU. Take this opportunity to step away from your typical daily responsibilities and accept help from family, friends, support groups, hospital staff, and former NICU parents. Ask others to help out with tasks such as meal preparation, household management, and caring for other children so you have time to bond with your new baby, practice self-care, and do what is necessary to cope with your situation.
Dozens of hospital resources exist exclusively to alleviate the stress and difficulty of a NICU stay. Hospitals almost always provide support groups, educational materials, information, meal prep, and other resources to NICU parents.
It is critical that parents in the NICU seek help from emotional and mental health professionals if need be. Whether you think you need professional help or not, speaking to a psychologist, counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist may be hugely beneficial to your well-being. If your feelings and experiences in the NICU include apathy, detachment, violent impulses, depression, confusion, suicidal thoughts, or delusions, you must seek professional help. These feelings are indicative of a medical emergency.
5. Get to know the NICU staff
Openly and comfortably communicating with the doctors, care teams, workers, and nurses in the NICU is a great way to gather information about your baby’s health and the NICU’s resources. The professionals that make rounds in the neonatal intensive care unit are hard-working, empathetic people with access to valuable information and resources—learn when they will be in the NICU and don’t hesitate to reach out for their help. Don’t be shy about asking everything you want to know about your baby. You can ask to see your baby, whether you can help, how your baby’s health is, or who you should contact for specific questions.
6. Share and express your thoughts, feelings, and experiences
Even if it is simply jotting down entries in a private journal, finding a way to express your feelings in the NICU is important. Talking with other people, writing, making art, or finding another mode of expression helps NICU parents better understand their feelings and cope with their experiences. While some choose to keep these sentiments private, others find that sharing with others can be uplifting and empowering. Either way, these modes of expression are critical, cathartic parts of the coping process.
7. Keep track of your baby’s accomplishments and developments
Many NICU parents will argue that it is doubly exciting when a sick or injured baby reaches new developmental milestones. Document and cherish these moments as accomplishments and memories to look back on later in life—they will serve as a valuable commemoration of your first days together and a reminder of how strong your baby and family is.
8. Bond with other NICU parents
Many parents with babies in the NICU find support, comfort, and strength in making connections with other parents in the neonatal intensive care unit. These valuable, unique relationships often last well beyond a parent’s time in the NICU.
9. Avoid comparisons
While connecting with other parents in the NICU is helpful for many new parents, it is important not to compare your baby’s development or situation with that of another family’s. Every baby and family will have a unique experience in the NICU.
10. Stay optimistic
This is perhaps the most important—and challenging—guideline we can offer for new parents in the NICU. Seeing your baby surrounded by wires and machinery will be one of the hardest experiences of your life, but it is critical to remember that this supportive equipment is for the best and that NICU babies are incredibly strong. Staying positive and hopeful while your baby is in the NICU is perhaps the best thing you can do for your child and family.
Why Do Some Babies Have to Stay in the NICU?
Now that we’ve discussed our coping tips for the NICU, it’s important to cover some of the reasons newborn babies have to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit in the first place. There are a number of reasons a newborn baby may need to stay in the NICU during his or her first weeks, days, or months of life. Because neonatal health is so tenuous, birth injuries, small health issues, and/or medical mistakes can land a newborn baby in the neonatal intensive care unit. Below we’ve listed just a few of the many reasons babies are admitted to the NICU:
- Fetal or neonatal oxygen deprivation: When a baby fails to receive adequate amounts of oxygenated blood around the time of delivery, he or she experiences birth asphyxia. Birth asphyxia is also known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), neonatal encephalopathy (NE), or intrapartum asphyxia. It is a very dangerous condition that, without swift treatment, can cause permanent brain damage, seizures, intellectual impairments, cerebral palsy (CP), movement disorders, and even death.
- Premature birth: Premature babies are very fragile and generally require support for their underdeveloped bodily systems.
- Breathing problems: Some newborns have breathing issues, lung defects, or require resuscitation after delivery.
- Head trauma: Birth injuries may result in trauma to a baby’s head, neck, brain, or face. In order to minimize the severity and likelihood of permanent brain damage and lifelong disabilities, injuries such as intracranial hemorrhages (brain bleeds) require immediate care.
- Infection: Mothers can pass infections such as herpes, GBS, or UTIs to their babies. Maternal infections can lead to neonatal sepsis and meningitis, encephalitis, and other dangerous infections and conditions.
- Untreated Jaundice: When left untreated, jaundice can cause kernicterus. Kernicterus is a dangerous type of permanent brain damage that commonly leads to cerebral palsy.
- Fetal stroke: Babies are admitted to the NICU when they experience a stroke during the neonatal period.
Confronting Questions About Medical Malpractice in the NICU
Unfortunately, all of the aforementioned reasons for NICU admittance can be the result of medical mistakes. Additionally, errors made in the NICU can lead to permanent injury or death in an already fragile newborn baby. To learn more about instances of medical malpractice in the NICU, visit our NICU help section here.
Many parents feel uncomfortable addressing their speculations about medical malpractice in the NICU. If you know a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit who you believe was injured due to medical negligence, you shouldn’t feel inhibited about contacting an attorney specializing in birth trauma. Medical malpractice lawyers that exclusively take birth injury cases help new NICU parents understand how their baby was injured and provide legal guidance.
Many newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit suffer from lifelong injuries, conditions and disabilities—unfortunately, their parents never pursue legal action before their statutes of limitation expire. If you believe your loved one in the NICU was injured due to medical malpractice, we encourage you to reach out to our birth injury attorneys in any of the following ways. Our nationally recognized birth trauma attorneys are available to speak with you 24/7 and will provide you with a free legal consultation.
- Email our birth injury attorneys
- Call the law office of Reiter & Walsh toll-free at 888-419-2229
- Press the Live Chat tab you see to the left of your browser
- Complete our quick online contact form here
Infographic: 10 Coping Tips for Parents in the NICU