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March 9, 2023
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March 21, 2023

Friday Five: Five Tips to Navigate the NICU


Know that “firsts” are often not “onlys”

New parents often gush over a baby’s firsts: the first bath, first feed, first diaper change. As a NICU parent, you may not be present for some, or all, of these moments. When my daughter was born at 32 weeks via urgent c-section due to a spontaneous placental abruption, she went straight to the NICU and I wasn’t able to see her for six hours during recovery. In that early postpartum haze, I mourned missing her first moments. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that there are thousands of diaper changes, baths and feeds to experience as a parent. Months after she was discharged, my daughter was at daycare the first time she ever crawled… I only saw it because they captured it on video. I believe my experience in the NICU helped to reframe “firsts” as the key moments they are, but not the end-all, be-all of parenting experiences.

The guilt happens when you are there and when you are not there. All you can do is your best each day

With prolonged NICU stays, the inevitable reality is that you won’t be with your baby all of the time. My husband and I were juggling full-time jobs and hospital time during our daughter’s 28-day stay. When I was working, I would feel guilt and sadness not to be with my baby - even though I knew she needed to rest in her isolette. When I was at the hospital for hours on end, I would feel guilt that so much in my life had fallen by the wayside due to the hours spent in the NICU. I see now that guilt is a common part of parenting in general and that is especially present when dealing with the extenuating circumstances of a NICU stay. Every day can only be an effort to do the best you can and some days things at home or at the hospital will take a back seat. A perfect balance isn’t possible, so be kind to yourself throughout the process.

Chat with Your Baby

The emotional stress that comes along with being a NICU parent can be heavy. When I found myself at a loss for how to pass the time in what can be a lonely, quiet room filled with only the beeps of monitors and the cries of the baby next door, I started telling my baby all about everything outside of that room. I kept her updated on my day-to-day, what was happening at the home she would soon come to know, and when nothing else came to me, I reminded her how strong she was. Talking to your baby (or even reading aloud to them if you don’t have anything to say in the moment) is a way to bond and build connection in an uncomfortable environment.

Be communicative about your needs

Being a NICU parent is a unique type of limbo to exist in; you are no longer pregnant but also do not have your baby at home. Since many people have not had a NICU experience, family and friends may not immediately know how to support you during this time. In my experience, people were relieved when I clearly explained how they could help. Whether a conversation with a friend, a family member sending food, or a colleague picking up a work task, your community is most likely looking for ways that they can help and will be so glad that you asked for their support.

Learn Everything You Can

Long before I had my own NICU experience, a friend told me about her own newborn’s stay in the NICU, which lasted a couple of days. She was able to look back and smile, saying that in those first days her baby was in the NICU and she was still admitted to the hospital post-delivery, she would come back to the postpartum recovery floor and tell all of the other new parents that they should go down to the NICU to learn about how to care for their babies! Now having a NICU stay of my own, I see what she meant. The NICU team members are incredible sources of knowledge about everything from the easiest way to change a diaper, to feeding challenges, to how to dress your baby for their small size. Many of the nurses I met were also parents themselves. Soak up as much knowledge as you can to take home with you and in conjunction with advocating for your baby, ask questions of your NICU care team to build your confidence - especially if you are a first-time parent.

Meet Amanda Klein

Amanda Klein is a preemie mom, New York native, and client partner in digital advertising sales with a previous life in luxury fashion. Her experience becoming a first-time mom at 32 weeks and spending a month in the NICU shaped her entry to parenthood. Amanda resides in southern California with her husband and daughter, where she is an avid reader, walker and traveler (mini travel buddy in tow!)


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