Today we are fortunate to have Dr. Amy Hair, neonatologist and director of the Neonatology Nutrition Program at Texas Children’s Hospital, answer our questions on how parents can cope if their baby is in the NICU. Thank you Dr. Hair!
What is the first thing families should know when their baby is admitted to the NICU?
Parents should know that they are a vital part of the care team for their baby and the doctors, nurses and staff value their opinions and instincts.
Parents often find their first visit to the NICU overwhelming, but in time, they’ll become accustomed to the physical environment and start to tune out all of the machines, beeping and noises and just focus on spending time with their precious baby.
Depending on the baby’s illness and how premature they were born, parents will see machines, wires, hear beeping and other potentially alarming noises. We try to introduce parents to their baby’s environment and explain what each piece of equipment is used for, what the numbers are on the monitor (vital signs) and the wires they see are routine leads to pick up the heart beat tracing (EKG leads). At first glance, the NICU may appear frightening and may concern some parents but most babies in the NICU, regardless of how severe their illness is, receive the same type of cardiopulmonary monitoring (vital signs monitoring).
The most common types of equipment parents will see in the NICU are cardiopulmonary monitoring wires, incubators and respiratory support systems.
There are so many people in the NICU. How do I know who to talk to if I have a question?
The entire NICU team is there to help support and take care of babies and families in any way possible. Parents should feel free to reach out to any NICU staff with questions and concerns. If they do not know the answer immediately, they will work to find the answer as quickly as possible.
How can parents cope when their baby is in the NICU, especially if they have jobs, other children or travel a distance to the hospital?
In addition to the stress and fear they feel while their child is in the NICU, parents are going through many changes. Mothers are experiencing body changes, hormonal changes and role changes and fathers are adapting to their new role as a dad as well. If you become overwhelmed, ask for help. Remember that it’s okay to take care of yourself so that you can better take care of your baby.
Access your community resources or local support systems whether this is family and friends, a faith community or neighbors to help you with things such as babysitting your other children, cooking meals, running errands, etc. This will allow you more time for NICU visits without the overwhelming feeling that you are neglecting other aspects of your life.
Any other words of wisdom to offer parents?
We know parents can’t be here 24/7. Call the NICU any time you like. Although you may feel like you are pestering the team, this is never the case. We know that your baby is your number 1 priority regardless of your physical location and we are always happy to answer your questions regarding his or her status and well-being.
As a Neonatologist, Dr. Hair specializes in care for infants born at the edge of viability as well as infants born at term or earlier with congenital defects or other conditions that need specialized intensive care. Her research focus is neonatal nutrition, specifically evaluating how our smallest premature babies grow during their hospital stay.