Parental involvement in baby's care in the NICU is important for both the health of baby and his or her parents. Although the experience may be overwhelming, you play an integral role as an advocate and voice for your child. Below are 7 ways that you can stay involved in your baby's care.
1. Ask questions and take notes - No question is too small. This is your child and staying informed is important. If no one is around to answer, write down questions you come up with to ask later. If you are even the slightest bit concerned about your child's condition, ask questions! The nurses and doctors are there to help you understand and make informed decisions in your child's care. To help you remember the answers to these questions and to record your observations, keep a journal. It can be a great tool to refer back to later on.
2. Know your nurses - Every nurse is different with a unique personality, routine, and opinion. If you have a primary nurse, make sure you dedicate time to connecting with him or her. Your primary nurse is charged with your baby's plan of care and will be a resource to you throughout your stay. If you don't have a primary nurse, inquire to see if one is available.
3. Make Sure Your Expectations are Understood - Most parents have a preference on the parenting style and care that they chose for their child. Breastfeeding vs. Bottle, the use of pacifiers, religious considerations, etc… are all topics that should be discussed. Keep an open mind, not every request may be able to be accommodated based on your child’s condition. However, by informing the staff of your wishes, they can help you make the best decisions for your child.
4. Know the Routine - A NICU has a specific routine in place. By knowing the routine you can be better prepared as to what to expect during your stay. Find out how long the shifts are, and what time shift change takes place. Ask what time rounds are made, and if you are allowed to be there during these times.
5. Know the Rules - Each NICU is different; all rules will vary depending on the hospital’s policy and the severity of your child’s condition. Most NICU’s will hand out guidelines, but if not, make sure you check on a few things the first day. For example: What are visiting hours? How many people are allowed at your child’s side at a time? Are physical interactions such as bathing, diapering, feeding, and holding your child, limited? Can you bring items in from home such as a book to read to your child, or stuffed animals and pictures to leave in the isolette? What phone number can you use to check on your child?
6. Be present as much as possible - interact with your baby as much as permitted by your NICU. Your baby knows you as his or her parent and so will feel comfort from your presence. Advocate for Kangaroo care and other bonding practices when your physician feels your baby is stable enough. Inquire to see if you can participate in bathing your baby, taking his or her temperature, changing diapers and other care procedures. Remember that although being present for your baby is critical, you should also make sure to take care of yourself. You'll be better prepared for your baby's care if you are at your best.
7. Celebrate the milestones - There are many different ways to celebrate the milestones of your baby. From journaling and scrapbooking, to stickers and journey beads; you will want to capture the moments that bring your baby one step closer to home. Don’t forget to take pictures. Many parents are reluctant to take pictures of their critically ill newborns, but this is an important time in their life that you will want to document to see just how far they’ve come. Keep in mind that all babies are different and your child’s milestones may not follow the typical timeline. Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor and try to be patient; your little one is working hard to overcome the additional obstacles he/she faces to get there!