Monday, February 23, 2015

A Dad's Role in the NICU

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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.

Helping Yourself 

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.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What To Expect, When You're Expecting a NICU Stay

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The birth of your baby is a joyous occasion. However, the experience of being in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be very overwhelming. Concern and fear may take over the excitement surrounding the birth as you are now faced with a variety of different emotions. The range of emotions you are feeling are perfectly normal. Knowing what to expect can help you manage those emotions. Here are a couple key points you should know for your stay.

Know the Rules.
Each NICU is different; all rules will vary depending on the hospital’s policy and the severity of your child’s condition. Most NICU’s will hand out guidelines, but if not, make sure you check on a few things the first day. For example: What are visiting hours? How many people are allowed at your child’s side at a time? Are physical interactions such as bathing, diapering, feeding, and holding your child, limited? Can you bring items in from home such as a book to read to your child, or stuffed animals and pictures to leave in the isolette? What phone number can you use to check on your child?

Know the Routine.
A NICU has a specific routine in place. By knowing the routine you can be better prepared as to what to expect during your stay. Find out how long the shifts are, and what time shift change takes place. Ask what time rounds are made, and if you are allowed to be there during these times.

Ask Questions. Take Notes. 
No question is too small. This is your child, and staying informed is important. If no one is around, write down questions when they come up, to ask later. If you are even the slightest bit concerned about your child’s condition, ask questions! The nurses and doctors are there to help you understand and make informed decisions on your child’s care. To help you remember the answers to these questions, and jot down new ones, keep a journal and take notes. It can be a great tool to refer back to later on.

Know Your Nurses.
Every nurse is different with a unique personality, routine, and opinion. There may be times you disagree with an opinion or action. If you are uncomfortable with or not ‘seeing eye to eye’ with a nurse, take your concerns to another staff member that you do feel comfortable with. Remember, this is your child and you must be able to trust whoever is taking care of him/her. If you are unhappy at any time with the care of your child, take your concerns to the head nurse, social worker, or leading neonatologist.

Make Sure Your Expectations are Understood.
Most parents have a preference on the parenting style and care that they chose for their child. Breastfeeding vs. Bottle, the use of pacifiers, religious considerations, etc… are all topics that should be discussed. Keep an open mind, not every request may be able to be accommodated based on your child’s condition. However, by informing the staff of your wishes, they can help you make the best decisions for your child.

Above all know that you are not alone. Connect with other parents who have been or who have a critically ill child like yours. No one understands the journey unless they have been there.

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