Dads have such an important role in the NICU, but at times it can seem as if your role is secondary, as everyone around focuses on Mom and her recovery, needs, and emotions. Don't let this discourage you. Your role and support is vital to your child's wellbeing.
You may find yourself feeling helpless and at a loss as to what to do. Strong and often contradictory emotions, such as anger and sadness, guilt and grief, helplessness and hope may be swirling through your head throughout the day. Stop and take a moment to acknowledge what you are feeling and just how difficult your situation is. Here are a couple great tips of how to take care of yourself, spouse or partner and your baby.
See if your NICU has a support group and consider attending. Most people you know have never experienced the NICU and they just can't relate to everything you are going through. Talking with others who are in the same situation as you can be very helpful. Be open and honest about your concerns and fears. If a support group isn't available, seek out a trusted friend or family member you can talk to. Exercise can be a good way to release some tension and clear your head. Don’t forget to get enough sleep, and eat as well. Your health is important too.
Helping your Baby
Looking at your new baby hooked up to machines, looking so small and frail… this is not what you imagined fatherhood to be like. You may be extremely nervous about holding your baby, and participating in his/her care for fear of doing something wrong. Pay close attention to what the nurses are doing and ask lots of questions so you can feel confident about helping. They know that all parents are nervous about what to do, so no question will surprise them. Take notes if you need to or have them stay right there with you the first few times until you feel comfortable. The most important thing is not to let these opportunities pass you by. You will want to experience and remember these special moments.
Helping your Spouse or Partner
You may find yourself wondering just how Mom is able to handle everything--and the secret is, she can't without a lot of help. Make sure you are helping take care of her so she is able to focus on your child as well. Some things that may help:
- If she is pumping breast milk for your baby, be supportive. Wash the pumping supplies and help label and store the milk .
- Keep track of the insurance information. Help make some of the necessary phone calls to insurance companies, specialists, etc.
- Make sure the house, diaper bag and her purse or bag is stocked with some quick, healthy snacks like granola bars, fruit, and nuts. Eating on the run will be commonplace now, so having some healthy options close at hand is important.
- Take over some of the household chores or enlist help to get them done. Laundry, cleaning, running errands—these still need to be done. By taking some of these items of her to-do list, you ease her stress and worry immensely.
Having a child in the NICU may be the hardest thing you ever face in your life, so now is not the time to play the hero and pretend you can do it all. Focus on what you can do to help your baby, and your spouse or partner and most importantly, yourself.