Having a baby in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), is not easy! There is nothing you want more as a parent than to bring your baby home. But preemies don’t get to come home right away. Obviously, it’s the best thing for them, but gosh it is brutal.
In this post, I’d like to tell you a bit about our NICU stay, the challenges of being a NICU parent, and the benefits! Yes, there are some benefits, and believe me it pays to focus on the benefits when you are in the throws of it. The only way to make it through, is to stay positive.
After what felt like only a few seconds of getting to hold our baby, he was taken away to the NICU.
Baby William was 34 weeks and 2 days when he was born. He was premature- a preemie. He needed to be checked out thoroughly.
See his full birth story here.
When we got transferred out of labor and delivery, they brought us to see him in the NICU.
It was overwhelming to say the least.
He was in a crib that helped to regulate his temperature. He had a feeding tube in his mouth, and an IV in. There were EKG wires on his chest and belly, and an oxygen sensor on his foot.
It was such a mix of emotions. We were so glad to see our son and hold him, but it was heartbreaking to see the tubes and wires.
It was also quite daunting to hold a baby with so many wires, much less trying to change his diaper, feed him, etc.
When he was admitted to the NICU, his blood sugar was being monitored because it was too low. For the first 24 hours, he wasn’t given any food…just IV fluids.
He was regulating his own temperature well, however, so he was moved to a normal crib pretty quickly and started getting bottles.
They suspected he’d be jaundiced, since he had a little yellow to his skin tone. It never happened, though!
William was in the NICU for a total of 1 week.
It was 7 incredibly hard days.
He was born on a Sunday, and I was discharged from the hospital Tuesday morning. He wasn’t discharged until the following Sunday.
Monday was relatively easy as a result. We visited him often since we were there anyway.
Then it got tough once I was discharged.
We came home. My parents left as soon as we got home from the hospital (like we drove up, and they drove off). And so, we were on our own, with our 4 year old who wasn’t allowed in the NICU.
We were going to have to tag team to see William and take care of our older daughter, Caroline.
Since William’s blood sugar had been low, his main goal was food intake. He did well with it, so they were upping it daily and really challenging him.
They had him on a 3 hour schedule, and I was trying to be there for as many feedings as I could.
I was pumping at home, and bringing the milk in to feed him. I was also trying to breastfeed him while I was there.
It was near impossible to be there as much as I wanted. By the time I’d get done feeding him, get home, pump, and say hi to my family, it was time to go back.
It was so stressful. I felt like I couldn’t be there as I should be for either one of our children.
Reading up about the NICU wasn’t something we’d done. We knew it was possible that he’d have a short stay. We didn’t realize he’d be there so long, however.
And we just weren’t mentally prepared.
There were struggles, but there were also benefits to the NICU.
In the chance that someone is reading up. Preparing. Or going through having a preemie in the NICU, I wanted to take a moment to record our experiences- both the benefits and the challenges.
Challenges of a Preemie in the NICU
- Time – There’s just not enough time to be there. Especially if this isn’t your first child. It’s impossible to be there as much as you want to. I had to really come to terms with that. I ended up falling into a good rhythm of going once a day, but staying long enough for two feedings (so about 3.5-4 hours).
- Breastfeeding– Preemies are tired. So tired. Breastfeeding really tires them out. When the entire goal is to get your child eating enough food (and yes they measure in the NICU), it’s hard to steal that time and energy from your baby to focus on breastfeeding.
- I ended up capping my breastfeeding time. I did no more than 5 minutes of trying (unless it was going well).
- I also used a nipple shield. It made it so much easier for him to latch.
- Exclusive Pumping– I pumped with Caroline, along side breastfeeding, while having her HOME. It is a MUUUUCH different ballgame when your child is in the NICU. You are unable to breastfeed as much as you’d like, yet you want to keep your supply for when baby is out of the NICU, and you are totally stressed because your baby isn’t with you. That’s not a good combination for success.
- I was pumping every 3 hours. My breasts were hard and engorged no matter what I did. Pumping just isn’t as effective as breastfeeding.
- All I can say, is keep up with it. Pump every 3 hours around the clock. As soon as baby is home to breastfeed, things get relieved and all is good!
- Visitors– For our NICU, no one under 6 is allowed in EVER. And kids under 12 I think were only allowed in on the weekends for scheduled visits. Caroline couldn’t meet her baby brother until he was home. It was brutal. Especially after losing April. Caroline wanted to meet her brother as soon as she could, and it was heartbreaking for us to not be able to let her.
- The checklist and the unknown– There’s a checklist of things your baby has to accomplish to get discharged. Things need to get checked off and kept up with. We had GREAT NICU nurses that were on top of it. I am so thankful they were, because we were able to get discharged one surprise day. It was such a surprise…
- The doctor came in for rounds and asked me if he was getting discharged today or tomorrow. I was in shock as no one had mentioned discharge to us yet. He was doing great though, (taking feedings of 50 mL every 3 hours, and not having any breathing “events”), and luckily everything on his checklist was done. He’d had his hearing checked, his circumcision, his car seat test, etc. I just had to do a CPR test that day, and we were off!
- Make sure you know what that checklist is, however. Make sure you know the goals for your baby. You are your baby’s advocate and you can remind nurses, ask about things, and get things to get done as well.
Benefits of Having a Preemie in the NICU
As a scheduling mom that prioritizes sleep with her baby’s, I was thrilled with MANY aspects of the NICU.
- Schedules– The NICU does not have time to feed babies on demand. They have to track what the intake is, and keep up with several babies at once. That means they need schedules. William was on a 3 hour schedule from day 1 with them. It was absolutely fabulous. I know that, had he been with us instead of in the NICU, we’d have had a little bit more of a rocky road getting to that 3 hour schedule so seamlessly.
- We were the parents that would show up and not pick up our baby or disturb him until it was time to eat. We really valued the sleep that he was getting, and keeping him on the schedule.
- Self soothing– The NICU nurses also don’t have time to rock babies to sleep. They do what they can to settle and help the babies, but they are busy. The babies quickly learn how to just fall asleep on their own.
- We came home with a goal of our own to keep that going!
- Noise– The NICU is noisy. There are babies crying, machines beeping, visitors talking, etc. The babies sleep through it all.
- This was also something we valued, with having a 4 year old at home. We never want to be the house that is shhhshing everyone. We live with the normal noises and volume that we always do, and get our baby to adjust, instead of the other way around.
- Swaddling– William wasn’t swaddled in his first couple of days. After that he was swaddled with one arm out, and then two arms in once the IV was out. Why? The cords, the wires, the IV tubes. It’s hard to swaddle a baby with all of that going on. As he got taken off of things, he was able to be swaddled more effectively. I just remember thinking “Wow he sleeps really well for not being swaddled. We should keep that up so we don’t have to wean him off of the swaddle!”
- We, of course, started swaddling when we got him home. LOL But now that he’s been home for a week, we’ve tried without a few times and it is working well. He seems to like no swaddle. I love that because it’s one less thing to take away later.
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Don’t get me wrong, the NICU sucks. It’s hard. It’s stressful. But, as Babywise parents, we really appreciated all of the above.
We were also able to rest. Kind of.
We didn’t have a baby at home crying. So, aside from waking up to pump every 3 hours, we really did get to rest and spend time with our older daughter.
It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing exactly- I wanted our baby home, but we tried to take advantage of the restful time we could sneak in as much as we could.
When we were discharged from the NICU, we were given instructions:
- Follow up with our pediatrician in the next two days.
- Continue following breast with bottle, and supplement with 22 calorie formula mixed into the pumped milk.
He was 6 pounds 3 ounces at birth. When he left the NICU, he was 6 pounds 1 ounce. The goal was to keep him pumped full of calories to keep him gaining.
At the first pediatrician visit (the day after discharge), we were told to continue waking him every 3 hours around the clock, and continue supplementing with the 22 calorie formula.
We see the pediatrician again at his 1 month appointment. We are hoping to be able to start letting him sleep at night at that point.
As for the bottles- we tried. He took a little bit here and there. He’s doing such good breastfeeding, however, that he didn’t want much, if any, and we were throwing away a lot of pumped milk.
So, now at 2.5 weeks old, we aren’t offering the bottle at all, but are still waking around the clock.
See William’s schedule and update for the first two weeks here.