Surviving the NICU

Whether you’re curious to know what our experience looked like or want to be prepared for your NICU stay, here’s our guide to Surviving the NICU.

If you are expecting multiples you’re most likely aware of a possible NICU stay. We knew that since we were expecting quadruplets, the NICU would be inevitable for us and unlike many others, we had plenty of time to learn about the NICU so that we could be prepared for our stay. 

Your individual experience may be different, as well as the practice and protocols at your hospital but this was our experience and our advice.

Our quadruplets were delivered at 32 weeks gestation (8 weeks prematurely) which meant they needed a little support. Although nothing shattering, we did have days with CPAP, light therapy, surfactant treatments and one chest tube. 

Being in the NICU is hard. It can feel like you’re being robbed of an experience, all while you’re healing, in pain and stuck in a small room worrying about the safety of your child. Know that this is temporary and you will get through it, one day and one prayer at a time.

Most importantly, take care of your mental & physical health. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

As much as your baby/babies need your love & affection, you also need to heal and take care of yourself to be the best parent you can be. I felt fortunate to at least have some time for me to heal and do a few things before I brought them home. We would spend most of the day at the NICU but would head back to our temporary home in Anchorage every night to catch up on sleep. We found comfort in knowing we could call and check on them at any time, and the nurses assured me that they would call if anything were to happen.

Most days we would grab a coffee in the morning and/or go for a walk before heading back to the NICU. I was even able to get a manicure/pedicure and get my lashes done. Do whatever it is that makes you feel good! Then by the time your baby (or babies!) come home, you will have gotten a small headstart on fulfilling some of your wants and needs. I wanted to be as charged as I could when they came home. 

We did skin-to-skin whenever we could, and I would have to pump/breast feed in between. It started to feel like we hardly had time to eat or pee! The good news is, it’s all temporary. Before you know it, you’ll be home with your baby/babies and all of this will be a distant memory.

Our NICU nurses were phenomenal! It made it easier knowing that they did their best to take care of our babies while we were away. Remember: they are trained specifically to care for your babies. Love, hold and care for them when you can, but don’t feel bad about letting the nurses do their important  job of nursing your little one to better health.

Mom guilt

It can be very hard, but don’t feel bad about taking time away from the hospital. Your baby is in the best place they can be for the time being. Do your best to use this time to rest and recharge when you can so that you are not running on empty when your baby comes home.

Personally, it was sometimes hard to watch the nurses with my babies and feel like they could take better care of them than I could. You’re tired of being micromanaged and not being able to mother your baby. You just want to be left alone to hold and love your baby without all the tubes and monitors. But just try to remember, your baby needs special care and that is what they are there for. We took every opportunity we could to learn about all the things pertaining to preemies. This includes how to safely hold them and care for them, since their little 3 pound bodies had some catching up to do. 

I would remind myself that my role as their mother is much bigger than anything else in this world and they need me more than anyone. But the nurses and doctors were there to get us through to going home. I dreamed of the day they were safe to go home, where we could be a family and I was left to my mother on my own in peace. It can be a stressful environment to bond with your family. Nurses, doctors and alarms seem to bother you every few minutes and you just want it to be over. But this too, shall pass. 

Take advantage of the allllll the support 

We asked so many questions and learned as much as we could about safely handling our babies, breastfeeding, safe sleep and keeping their schedule.

Every hospital should have resources for breastfeeding support, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need any help (or even if you don’t think you do!). The hospital should also be able to loan you a medical-grade breast pump and be there for you to help you adjust to pumping and breastfeeding. Take advantage of the information when you can!

Most facilities should also have counseling resources. Even if you don’t feel the need, it might be helpful to talk with someone. Don’t struggle alone! NICU life can be very overwhelming, but there is a community of people that have gone through it and counselors that are happy to guide you where they can. Social workers should also be available and in support of you.

Participate in daily cares & rounds

Daily rounds were when the doctors, nurses, dietitians, etc, would stop at each room to talk about all the changes and adjustments for each baby. Be sure to ask about what time they do their rounds, and try to be there to listen and ask questions. It’s the best time to get updates and direct answers.

Daily cares are when the nurses care for the babies. Our quadruplets were on a 3 hour schedule, where they would do a health check, diaper change, and then feed. We would jump in and care for them when we could, rock them to sleep and then try and get a break to snack or pee in between. We would also take at least one round off a day to take a brief nap, enjoy dinner together, or catch up on things at home.

Advocate for yourself and your family

Don’t be afraid to advocate for what’s best for you and your family, because it is YOUR family. 

We had a primary nurse (we miss you Angie!) and asked to receive consistent nurses because it made us far more comfortable having nurses that knew our babies. If we were leaving around shift change, we made sure to tell the current nurse to pass some information along about how we typically do things in case it was someone new. We also asked for slight changes with their schedule if needed because at the end of this stay, we knew we would be taking the babies home to fit our lives and schedule.

Join a support group on Facebook or other places

I found it helpful to join groups on Facebook to ask questions and read about the experiences of others. You can also find other families on social media by searching hashtags like #nicu, #nicubaby and/or  #nicuwarrior. There are so many others that have been in this stressful season, and I’m sure there are many that would be happy to lend an ear or give some encouragement. Including me!

I also suggest following @DearNicuMama on Instagram!

The end can be the hardest part.

Typically once your baby has overcome the more prominent issues, they move them to a less intensive part of the NICU. Feeders and growers, they say! 

I anticipated that the beginning would be the hardest, but for us, and many other families, it appears that this is not the case! It’s weeks into your stay that you start to feel the mental and physical drain. It can start to feel like your days are stuck on repeat and never moving forward.

It can take some time for babies to learn to eat on their own. Your baby can look perfectly able to go home but isn’t ready to suck, swallow and breathe properly. It’s frustrating to hear and think that they’re almost ready to go home, when in reality they might not be! 

If you are trying to breastfeed and you’re anxious to go home, the nurses may encourage bottle feeding. It seems to get babies out of the NICU sooner, but the risk is that it may create a bottle preference and a breast aversion. We introduced breast first and did our best to provide a mixture of bottles and breastfeeding. Thankfully our babies were accepting of both, but everyone is different.  It really depends on how important it is to you and if that’s a risk worth taking. Every family is different!

We were told our babies needed to eat 80% of their feeding by mouth before they would trial them off their feeding tube. And if they gained weight for 2 nights in a row we could take them home. It was nerve wracking.. even more so that we had to do that four times! Haha

At this point, you really just want them home with you so that you all can thrive. At least every day that passes, is one day closer to going home!

Know that everyday is not going to feel like progress. Some days you’ll seem to lose the progress that was just made, but it’s okay. In the NICU, it’s constantly two steps forward and one step backward and that’s normal! Take one day at a time.

The end can be the hardest part.

Pray and ask others to pray for you  ♥

✧ Keep a journal. You can fill it with your thoughts, feelings, prayers, achievements and/or letters to your little one. It can help you unload your thoughts and give you something to look back on.

✧ Remember to take photos. This will always be a part of your baby’s story and will ultimately be a reason that they are so strong! 

✧ Pack a NICU bag. We had a bag that was designated to take to the NICU which included a few things like spare clothes, pumping supplies, a phone charger, snacks, a journal, books, etc. You can also find one with a cooler pack in it, if you’re bringing fresh breastmilk to and from!

Bring food to the NICU. You can keep in the parent lounge so you always have some fast and healthy options to snack on. It’s all about staying charged! Sometimes we didn’t have much of a break in between cares, and it got expensive going to the cafeteria. 

Ask family or friends to set up a meal train for you. Spending time in the NICU means less time at home and making meals. 

✧ Stay moisturized. You will be washing your hands so often that they can get uncomfortably dry. I always brought chapstick and moisturized my hands with the baby lotion that they used since I knew it was safe to handle them with. 

✧ Tour the NICU facility before your baby is born. If you know you’ll most likely be admitted to the NICU, reach out to their navigator and ask about taking a tour of their facility. It brought us comfort to know where our babies were rushed off to, before we were even able to hold them.

Ask your partner or family member to remind you to call Medicaid, as they tell you to call within 10 days of birth. It’s hard to do because those first 10 days can be a complete blur! Delegate tasks and reminders when you can!

Madilyn Grace

Mitchell Allen

Jessica Lynn

Jeremy James