Being in the NICU is never what parents picture-of course you’re over the moon to meet your baby, but you’re also terrified. NICU ptsd is a very common experience for families even when everything is going well for baby.
One of our amazing clients decided to write a blog for us about her experience and tips for NICU parents, especially at Prentice.
Here’s her story.
I’m Sarah Evans! New parent (Windsor born 7/10/18), professional event planner, and Bravo superfan.
After suffering from PPROM (preterm premature rupture of membrane) at 31 weeks, I spent 2 weeks in the hospital before Windsor was born at 33 weeks. Windsor spent 51 days at the Prentice NICU and is thriving now. She is so resilient and I couldn’t be a prouder parent!
I’m not an expert but am very passionate about post-partum “real talk” amongst new parents. I’m trying to end the new parent mantra, “But no one told me how hard it is!”
Here are a few pieces of NICU advice/info (specifically for Prentice NICU) that I found helpful!
- Parking: The Jackson Chance Foundation provides free parking to NICU parents - parking is at Water Tower Place. Before you (the mom) are discharged from the hospital after delivery, the NICU nurse will give you the parking transponder and all the info you need.
- Eating: No food is allowed in the NICU rooms, only water. We kept water bottles there overnight and refilled at the water fountains throughout the day. I would sneak iced coffee in my water bottle cause I was desperate for caffeine! There is a small kitchen in the NICU waiting room where you can eat. There is a fridge and microwave. A great way for friends and family to support you is for them to bring food for you when they come to visit and you can eat in the NICU waiting room. There is a small food court in Prentice as well as Dunkin Donuts and Argo Tea. There’s a Potbelly in Luries. And then more food options across the cross walk that goes through the NW parking garage. Another great thing to ask friends and family for if they ask how they can help is to suggest gift cards to some of the fast food options at Northwestern.
- NICU Ins and Outs: There is a night nurse and day nurse who will be assigned to your baby and 1 or 2 others. They perform checks on the babies every 3 hours (temperature, diaper, monitors). This usually corresponds with the babies eating time. Depending on your baby, they will eat breastmilk/formula through a feeding tube, bottle, or directly from the breast. If you’re breastfeeding, you will likely spend a LOT of time pumping in the NICU. There is a hospital grade pump in every NICU room. Most of our days were spent laying in the recliner chair with our baby and holding her on our chests as she slept. The nurses have computers in their station where they monitor your baby and they will come immediately if any of the alarms start to go off. The doctors round in the morning (9-10am when we were there). The number 1 question they get asked is when will my baby go home. But as we learned, this is determined by your baby’s progress and hitting their required milestones. The doctors don’t know when your baby will hit those milestones since every baby is different.
- NICU Challenges: Nurses you don’t like or feel confident in, jealousy when other babies get discharged before yours, parents talking too loud (or singing!) in rooms near yours.
- “You” Time: Here are a few suggestions when you need a break from the NICU. A great option is the running track in the park next to Prentice (Chicago and LSD). Walking a few laps around the track is a great option if you want some fresh air while your baby sleeps. Water Tower is nearby and I found preemie size clothes at Macy’s and Gap Baby. The museum of contemporary art is free to IL residents on Tuesdays. In the summer, there is a farmers market outside the museum in the morning/early afternoon. We also downloaded the Walgreens photo app and would send our baby pics there and then take the small walk outside to pick them up (corner of Michigan and Chicago). We worked on filling out our baby book in the NICU (oh and writing our baby gift thank you cards). There’s a family lounge inside the NICU that has beautiful views of Lake Michigan. We would go take naps in the big recliner chairs.
- Learning from the Nurses: Something that made us feel more positive about our NICU stay was to view it as a baby boot camp. We tried to learn as much as possible from the nurses - nursing help, pumping help, learning how to bathe our baby, learning what to check for when the baby cries. They have parent classes but we didn’t want to take too much time away from our baby so we can just took the CPR and Taking Baby Home class.
- Managing your Household: This was one of the biggest challenges for us during our NICU stay. Grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. My biggest advice is to focus on the necessities so you don’t get overwhelmed. For us, that was food and laundry. We would be at the NICU from 12pm-8pm everyday. We would eat breakfast and lunch at home so we didn’t need to bring food to the NICU. We would try to do laundry and any other household necessities before 12pm. And since we would eat dinner so late, we ordered meal delivery services for that (Real Eats is my favorite because the food is delicious, no prepping required, and very fast to make.)
- Emotional Preparation: Nothing can prepare you for the emotions of the NICU. I found that friends on social media who had preemies were very supportive and I love the Instagram account Our Little Preemie. We took lots of videos of our baby during the day and I watched them during the night to help with my pumping supply. Try to accept help from your friends and family when they offer and give them specific needs: grocery shopping, setting up your crib, watching your pet. Something that made us feel good was to provide all the clothes for our baby in the NICU (the NICU can provide donated preemie clothes too) and to bring thin blankets to use as a crib sheet that we could change out to make it feel less sterile and more personal.
Ultimately having a baby in the NICU was not part of our plan and extremely trying at times. It’s okay to be upset.