The moment you found out you were expecting your precious little one, you probably had a vision of what the first days might look like…
Cozy sleepers and board books before bedtime…
Tiny bathtubs perfect for little splashers!
Gazing into your baby’s eyes during late night feedings…
When your baby is in the NICU those early days don’t always follow the story book narrative you imagined, and that can be really discouraging to parents. Instead of seeing to your baby’s every need, it can feel like you’re relegated to the sidelines, unsure of how to play an active role in your child’s care.
Don’t worry, NICU moms and NICU dads!
NICU baby care may be different than what you expected, but there are so many ways you can be a vital participant in your baby’s daily routine!
Here are 7 ways you can help care for your baby:
1. Take on Diaper Duty
One thing preemie babies and full-term babies have in common? They go through LOTS of diapers! When it’s time to change your little one, feel free to step up to the plate!
Diaper changing methods in the NICU can be a little different, so ask your nurse for tips or check out this helpful article.
2. Keep ‘Em Cozy and Warm
Temperature regulation is a BIG deal in the NICU. Babies can have a hard time regulating their temperature if they’re early, very small, or facing additional challenges.
NICU nurses do frequent temperature checks, and they’d love to teach you how to do it. You’ll have the skill and know-how to ensure that your baby is comfy and cozy in the NICU.
3. Skin-to-Skin Cuddles
The hardest part of being a NICU parent is not being able to hold your baby whenever you want. But there’s a silver lining- when you do get cuddle time, it’s incredibly special!
Hold your baby as often as you can and try to tune out distractions. Turn off the tv, put your phone away, and drink in the sights and sounds of your sweet baby. Feel your hearts beating together and know that your snuggles are helping your baby grow and get stronger.
4. Comfort Your Baby with Your Touch
Some NICU babies can’t be held right away. In fact, it might be a few weeks before you get the opportunity to hold your precious little one.
As hard as it is to not be able to sweep your baby into your arms, take comfort in the fact that your baby still needs your soothing touch! A containing touch can be the perfect solution for babies who aren’t quite ready for Kangaroo care.
Gently and securely placing your hands around your baby’s head and body recreates the warm, snug embrace of the womb and instantly calms your little love.
5. Have a Blast with a Bath
It won’t be the tiny plastic tub you imagined, but NICU babies need baths, too! Each NICU is different, and there are different bathing methods to fit each child’s needs, so have your nurse show you the best fit for your baby.
Many NICUs use swaddle bathing to keep babies warm while getting them squeaky clean! You can get a sneak peek at a swaddle bath technique here.
6. Be the Family Historian
These early days might not be exactly what you pictured, but that doesn’t make them any less special! And right now, it seems like you could never possibly forget your NICU experience, but trust me- as your kiddo grows, you’ll be surprised at how hazy those memories become.
Keep a NICU journal, or a calendar of your baby’s first year. And don’t forget to take LOTS of pictures of every special milestone!
7. Be There as Often as You Can*
Most NICU parents don’t have the luxury of being at their baby’s bedside around the clock- and your doctors and nurses understand that. But try to visit as often as you can. And if you can arrange your visitation schedule around your neonatologists’ rounds, that’s even better.
Staying up to date on their care and progress helps you be the best advocate for your child.
Being involved in your child’s care doesn’t mean you have to spend EVERY minute in the NICU- even if you can.
You are the most important person in your child’s life, and you need to take care of yourself. It’s okay to take time for yourself- go home to grab a nap or a ridiculously long shower. Meet a friend for lunch and a good pep talk. Take a walk and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Taking time for self-care helps you be an even better parent to your baby.