Tomorrow will be the six month anniversary of the day we brought Ian home from the NICU (read his birth story here)! I can still remember the day so vividly...the excitement, the nervousness, the sheer fear that we were going to mess something up. The day we brought him home will always be significant to me, because it was the first day I felt like he was really ours. I think every new parent feels kind of uncertain caring for a tiny helpless newborn, and when you're surrounded by professionals who are really quick and knowledgeable, it's kind of hard to build up your confidence. Not to mention the fact that simple diaper and onesie changes are even more difficult with a bunch of wires, and when you're in the NICU your baby is extra tiny and nerve-wracking to care for. Recently, a new mom reached out to me on Instagram for advice, as her baby was born at 33 weeks (same as Ian) and is spending some time in the same NICU as Ian did. As I was writing out a few things I remembered from our experience, I thought I should share them here as well, in case these tips can be helpful for other nervous moms (and dads).
1. This too shall pass - This is true for most stages of life & parenthood. Time marches on. So soak in the good stuff and be encouraged that the hard stuff won't last forever! Ian's time in the NICU already feels like a distant memory now.
2. Take pictures - I was kind of embarrassed to bring our big camera in, since there were more serious concerns than getting a cute picture of my newborn...so I never did. I kind of regret that. Still, we took tons of phone photos and I love to look back at them. It's awesome to see how much Ian has grown in seven short months! You may not think you'll want to remember this tough time, but it's really amazing to look back and see how far your baby has come.
3. Do skin-to-skin - Otherwise known as kangaroo care, start doing skin-to-skin time with your baby as soon as you can. It has all kinds of health benefits for your baby and you, and will really help with bonding. The first time I held Ian, I was terrified...but feeling his squirming body relax the instant our skin touched made me feel like a mom for the first time. It was my favorite part of every day in the NICU!
4. Pump it up - While pumping sucks (literally and figuratively), it's sooo important to provide your baby with your own breastmilk if you can. Did you know, if your baby is born early, your body knows that and makes milk with exactly the nutrients that he/she needs for that stage of life/development? So if your baby is born at 33 weeks, your milk will be different than full-term milk. Isn't that amazing?? Plus, breast milk has antibodies to protect your baby from disease and is easier for their little digestive system to handle. I also found that pumping helped me feel like I was actively doing something for my baby that no one else could do, during a time when it sometimes felt like my role as a mom was overshadowed by the medical team.
5. Get a hands-free pumping bra - Speaking of pumping, do yourself a favor and get a hands-free bra right away. It is a game-changer to be able to read, eat, text, and just generally feel like a human being while you're pumping. I used & recommend this one.
6. Eat & stay hydrated - Sounds basic, but when you're going back and forth from the hospital and trying to make your baby's care times/doctor's rounds, etc., sometimes it can be hard to fit in meals. BUT with all that pumping, your body needs the calories and hydration even more than usual. So bring a big water bottle and some healthy snacks with you, and make it a priority to eat real meals.
7. Accept help from other people - Ben and I are both kind of awkward about accepting help. It's our tendency to say, "we're fine!" and try to take care of everything ourselves. But we had some friends and family that insisted on bringing us care packages and Starbucks gift cards, taking us out to dinner, cooking us meals, and helping us with practical stuff around the house. That was so helpful and cherishing, and really allowed us to focus on Ian.
8. Take advantage of the services offered - In addition to your personal support network, there's an entire staff of professionals in the NICU that are there are help and support you. Take advantage of that! At our NICU, the social workers helped us get free parking passes which really helped financially, the lactation consultants taught me how to pump and how to breastfeed, and the nurses showed us how to give Ian baths, take his temperature, feed him bottles, burp him, change his diapers and onesies, and more. It's actually pretty cool to have experts personally educating you on how to care for your infant...ask questions and learn as much as you can!
9. Give yourself time away from the NICU - I felt a little bit guilty whenever I wasn't at the hospital, but it's super important to take some "me time" and spend time with your partner to recharge and feel like yourself again. Don't spend every waking moment in the NICU...allow yourself to do some things that you enjoy. Go for a walk, take a relaxing bath, go out to a nice dinner. Think of it this way--this is the last time you'll have a free, highly trained, round-the-clock team of "babysitters." So go on a date, and take some time to recover from the delivery.
10. It's okay to feel sad - Not only is it okay to cry, it's good for you. Allow yourself to grieve for what you missed...the "normal" delivery you expected, the baby shower you never had, the ability to bring your baby home right away. Find someone to talk to, whether that's your spouse, your mom, a friend, a fellow NICU parent, or a counselor at the hospital.
Sending hugs and love to any parents with babies currently in the NICU! Hope you get to bring your sweeties home soon. And before you know it, they'll be seven months old and sitting up and you'll be like, "whoa, where did the time go?!"