Holidays in the NICU during the COVID-19 pandemic

The holiday season is a time full of cheer for many families, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much. You may be worried about your family’s health, job, or finances. If your baby is currently in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU) there’s no doubt that this is likely an extra emotional time of the year.

Your emotional health

When your baby’s in the NICU, there’s no “normal” way to feel. If your baby needs to stay in the NICU through the holidays may cause you to feel sad or angry. You may be stressed and worried about your baby’s health and when you’ll be able to take them home. And with so much information about COVID-19 flashing across our televisions and social media channels, it may be even harder to stay calm. You may need more support now than ever.

Below are some tips to help you cope through the double stress of having a baby in the NICU during the holidays, while living through a pandemic:

  • Take breaks from watching or listening to the news stories or going on social media to help reduce anxiety.
  • Keep in touch with people you care about and who care about you. Tell your partner, family and friends how you’re feeling.
  • While COVID-19 has changed the way daily life looks for us, you can still keep a routine. Every day, take a shower, eat healthy foods and regular meals, drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Know you’re not alone. Reach out, share your story and talk to other NICU families online. Visit share.marchofdimes.org to learn more.

Planning your NICU visits

Because of the pandemic, there may be new policies and practices in the NICU. Talk with the NICU staff to keep up-to-date on your NICU’s rules.

  • Ask the NICU staff about family visit policies. Each hospital has their own rules and policies to keep families, babies and staff safe. When spending time with your baby wash your hands thoroughly and follow any hospital or NICU policies about wearing special protective equipment, like a mask or a gown.
  • Have a visitation plan. Develop a schedule with your partner for spending time with your baby. Each hospital has specific rules about who and how many people can be in the NICU at a time. Ask the NICU staff about the rules and make sure you follow them. Try to take time to rest and practice self-care when you’re away from the hospital.
  • Ask about breastfeeding. Many moms can still breastfeed or express breast milk for babies in the NICU. Talk with NICU staff about breastfeeding policies and if you need to wear a mask or any special protective equipment. If you are expressing breast milk, wash your hands thoroughly before touching the pump and bottle parts, and clean all parts after each use.
  • Ask how you can bond with your baby. Talk with the NICU staff about how you can safely bond with and care for your baby. Skin-to-skin or kangaroo care may still be possible. Depending on the NICU policies, you may be able to sing, talk, read, or gently touch your baby.
  • Use the March of Dimes. My NICU Baby® App. The app provides answers, tools and support, so you can focus on your baby during what is often a difficult time.

Coping with your family’s needs

You and your partner may feel differently and your relationship may be strained because this is all new to both of you. It may be hard to keep calm when there is so much. If you have more children, you may feel guilty and overwhelmed about how to split your time between being with your baby in the NICU and being at home with your other children. All while making sure you are staying healthy and safe from COVID-19.

Your older children may have a lot of questions but may not know how to ask them. Be honest with them. Tell them what’s going on with you and with their baby brother or sister in words they can understand.

Tell your provider if you feel very sad or depressed. Your provider may be able to help connect you with a social worker, counselor, or therapist who offers tele-therapy or mental health services online. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a NAMI HelpLine Coronavirus Information and Resources Guide.

How you can protect your baby from COVID-19 in the NICU

Washing your hands is the best way to protect you and your baby from infection. If you visit your baby in the NICU, be sure to talk with your NICU about any rules you need to follow. Here are some additional tips:

  • Practice social distancing any time you are outside of the NICU and only leave your home for essential needs. Inside the hospital, practice social distancing with other adults as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Use face coverings. Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. Masks offer some protection to you and are also meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
  • Monitor your health daily. Be alert for symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.

Know that many families who have had a baby born early or sick share the same kinds of feelings that you and your partner have. Especially those who have had to spend the holidays season in the NICU. Visit marchofdimes.org to learn about resources and support that can help you and your family during this difficult time.

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