Having a baby in the NICU is not only unexpected for many, it is also an incredibly stressful, emotional, and difficult time for parents. Prematurity is the number one reason a baby is admitted to the NICU. But full-term babies can require NICU stays, too. Sometimes there are difficulties that occur during delivery, or a newborn may show signs of a problem in his or her first few days. Feeling overwhelmed by the experience is natural, but there are resources available that can help NICU parents.
Many hospitals have a weekly support group for families impacted by a stay in the NICU. This gives moms and dads an opportunity to meet other parents going through similar situations. It can also serve as an open forum to air out concerns or frustrations in a non-judgmental, confidential way. There are also phone support groups for parents who still want to talk about their experience post hospital stay.
Let’s face it. When you have a baby admitted into the NICU for an indefinite amount of time, everything else takes a backseat. In some cases, the baby must be transported to a hospital hours away from home. This can take a toll on parents who have to find housing accommodations or drive for a lengthy amount of time each day. There are organizations, such as Project Sweet Peas, that offer gift cards to be used toward food, lodging, and fuel for NICU parents. Other organizations, such as Graham’s Foundation, offer care packages for parents.
In the age of smartphones, there are so many ways to stay connected. There are a number of apps, including one from the March of Dimes, that feature tools, FAQs, and support for parents during their NICU stay and beyond. “Connected” is an ebook authored by a NICU nurse that includes a number of ways to bond with baby, plus info about challenges NICU families face and ways to handle them. The hospital our son stayed in had web camera equipped over bassinets that allowed parents to watch their babies when they could not be present.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice concerns to nurses or social workers — that’s what they’re there for. They can provide references for grants from nonprofits. They can offer advice in navigating the scary world of health insurance and hospital bills. Some might provide meal vouchers to the hospital cafeteria. They can even offer emotional support.
The NICU is a scary place for any parent. But there are many resources that can offer some peace of mind along the way. No one should have to go it alone.