Last week, I shared my general tips for new moms. Today, I wanted to share some special tips for my fellow NICU moms. As many of you know, Harper was born six weeks premature and spent a week in the NICU before finally coming home with us. I know that we are extremely blessed that her stay was relatively short, but it was still the hardest week of my life. I had no idea that she would come early. I had no pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. My water just randomly broke the night after Christmas. Because of this, I wasn’t prepared at all and I had no idea what to expect after she was born. I hope first and foremost that none of you will ever have to experience preterm labor, but if you do, I hope that sharing the things that helped me the most during that time will help you to get through it if that day ever comes.
1. Take breaks. // You are going to want to spend every single minute in the NICU with your baby. But try to remember that you just gave birth. You need time to rest and recover. Spending every minute in the NICU might also be too much for your postpartum emotions. In the first few days after Harper was born, while I was still in the hospital, Sam spent more time in the NICU with Harper than I did. In fact, he changed her diaper and bottle fed her before I did. I spent the majority of my time in the hospital resting and pumping. When I was discharged, I would come to the hospital for her feedings. I would feed her, hold her and then head back home to get everything ready for when she was discharged. It was just too much for my emotions to stay there all day and I felt much better when I focused on her coming home.
2. Ask the nurses to teach you everything and then do as much as you can yourself. // I was very familiar with babies before Harper was born, but I had never seen or held one as small as she was. The first time I changed her diaper, I got so nervous and flustered (she was crying and my milk came in and I just panicked), that I had to ask the nurse to finish for me. I got help with feeding (both nursing and bottle feeding), burping, bathing, everything! But after I watched them do it once or twice, I did it myself the rest of the time. After a few days, I would come in, close the curtain around us, and pretend that it was just our little family in there. Nurses are so amazing, but you can’t take them home with you. You want to feel as confident as possible when you walk out of those hospital doors and the best way to do that is to get your practice in while you still have professionals around to help you and answer any questions you may have.
3. Pump, Pump, Pump! // Not long after Harper was born and I moved into my recovery room, a nurse wheeled a hospital-grade breast pump in and told me to start pumping every 3 hours. I put it off for a few hours because I had no idea what I was doing, but eventually I faced my fear, set my alarm and got to pumping. I was so frustrated at first because hardly anything came out, but eventually it started flowing and by the end of her stay in the NICU, I had enough milk to feed all of the babies in the unit! We used donor breast milk while we were waiting for it to come in, but we only ended up needing it for a few days. I don’t judge any mom for her feeding choices; I breastfed for 8 months, formula fed until 1 year and loved both for different reasons. In fact, many doctors actually recommend adding at least one bottle of formula to a preemie’s feeding schedule because of the iron and other vitamins in it. However, I know in my gut that my breastmilk is a major part of the reason why Harper grew so quickly, why she never had any health problems and why she was able to break out of the NICU so quickly. Bonus tip: After you’re discharged from the hospital, rent a hospital-grade breast pump for a week or two. They’re more powerful so they will help you get the milk flowing and will hopefully help you establish a freezer stash.
4. Buy preemie clothes. // This is both a fun and functional tip. It’s fun because you get to go out on one of your breaks and buy doll-sized clothes for your cute baby. I promise that it will cheer you up instantly! It’s functional because preemies often have trouble regulating their temperature so you want to keep them as warm as possible. The NICU nurses would often put Harper in two sleepers at a time. It may be tempting to forgo preemie size and get newborn so they’ll last longer, but I preferred to have Harper in clothes that fit so that I didn’t have to worry about having too much fabric near her face and it just looked better. I saved all of her preemie clothes so that she could use them for her dolls when she got older.
5. Listen to your doctor, but listen harder to God. // Honestly, this was the hardest tip for me to follow. During our NICU stay, we saw two different doctors. One was positive and one was negative. The negative one seemed to enjoy scaring us and telling us every single thing that could possibly go wrong. She would say things like, “Don’t be surprised if you come in tomorrow and see that she has a feeding tube.” Her words started to crush me. I couldn’t enjoy feeding my baby because I was too busy trying to force her to take a certain amount of milk in a certain amount of time. Or I was constantly checking the monitors to make sure her numbers didn’t dip too low. On one particularly bad day, I couldn’t stop crying and Sam and my brother reminded me that God was in control. They told me that I had to speak life and God’s word over Harper instead of internalizing the doctor’s words so much. Yes, doctors are invaluable and we need them for so many things, but God has the final say. So while your precious baby is in the NICU, remember to pray over them. Read them scriptures or buy a children’s Bible and read them stories from it. Remember to pray against anything negative that the doctors may say or warn you about. Sam would even play worship music when he rocked Harper at night. Write them out and tape them onto the wall in your baby’s area. Do whatever you have to do to remind yourself that God is in control.
I could go on and on about the NICU experience, but these are the five main things I would say to a fellow NICU mom. If you’ve ever had a baby in the NICU, please add your own tips in the comments section below. And if you have a preemie and want to talk or need some advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!