For some parents, being in the NICU may help them think about things in a different way and help them to make new or better choices for their families. We also know how hard the NICU can be and that you may not always be at your best. Sometimes, parents can feel like lashing out at their family or friends or even staff at the hospital. It is important to discuss these concerns, find a solution, and deal with the anger in order to free up more time and energy to take good care of your baby and yourself.
For some families, visiting the NICU can be hard due to having other children at home, jobs, and other responsibilities. Sometimes, the parents may feel so poorly that they are unable to come visit. While visiting, parents may also feel they cannot leave the bedside and need to be with their baby every moment. While it is important for families to be with their babies as often as they can, it is also important that you are taking care of your needs too!
- Parents need to eat regularly, even if just small meals or snacks every few hours.
- Parents need to drink plenty of water to stay healthy.
- Getting rest when you can is also key to feeling better throughout this process. Napping when you get the chance may be useful for many parents. You might want to try napping while holding your baby skin-to-skin. As long as your baby is safely snuggled in a kangaroo vest and being monitored by the medical staff, it is perfectly fine to hold and nap.
- Rest and food/drink are very important for mothers who are providing breastmilk.
- Taking care of your own health so you do not get sick also can help protect your baby from illness. Also, you do not want to miss out on spending time with your baby if you get sick.
- Give yourself permission to cry and feel overwhelmed. You may worry that you will never be able to pull yourself back together, but you will.
- Be kind to yourself and lower your expectations. You just had a baby and life changes a lot. With home tasks, get comfortable with aiming for “good enough” and be okay if things may not get done perfectly or on time.
- Get into a routine. Find a way to balance work, home and visiting the hospital. Your baby needs you, but it is also important to have time to yourself, with your partner and with your other children. Also, take time to do things you enjoy. These restful breaks will help you find the strength to keep going.
- Connect with other NICU parents. They share many of your feelings and struggles.
- Explore your spiritual side. It might be helpful to reflect and lean on your spiritual beliefs. You may find comfort in talking with a hospital chaplain or your own pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam. It is normal for this experience to challenge your religious and spiritual beliefs. However, prayer, meditation, or quiet reflection may help you find emotional strength and hope during this challenging time.
- Keep a journal. Expressing your feelings on paper can help you cope with your emotional changes. A journal also strengthens your hope and patience by reminding you how far you and your baby have come.
- Vent your frustrations. If your baby has a setback, this may create some fear or anxiety. Please talk to your care team about your concerns to help you understand and prepare for the next steps. Talking with your friends/family or support staff (i.e., social worker, chaplain) may also help.
- Cultivate gratitude. Research has shown that focusing on good things that happen during the day can help create feelings of gratitude which has been shown to increase happiness. By writing down the good things that you noticed during each day shifts our focus to hope and optimism. This can help us get through tough times.
- Find humor. Laughter can be good medicine and relieve stress. Watch a comedy show video clip or look up jokes for a break from the stress. It is still okay to laugh and see the funny side of things.
- Get moving. Take a short walk around the hospital campus a couple of times a day. Exercise is good for your body, mind, and spirit. If you are able, try to find exercises you enjoy like yoga, running, dancing, strength training, biking, etc.
- Celebrate when you can. When your baby makes progress, it is okay to be happy.
- Accept the support of others. Let people know how they can best help you.
- Accept that you and your partner will react differently. Share your experiences and listen to how the other person feels so that you both can feel supported.
- Spend time with your baby. Taking care of your baby can help you bond and feel closer to them. Learning more about how you can be involved with your baby can help increase your sense of control.
- Mindfulness. A way of thinking which involves a state of active, open attention on the present. This is also know as being “in the moment.” This means a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. This awareness is met with internal acceptance. Paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. This can be done along with a meditation practice (see below).
- Meditation. One strategy to calm the mind and body is to take a few minutes to sit quietly with eyes closed. Focus on taking deep breaths. This is is a strategy to help calm the mind and body. This practice is well-known to have physical and mental health benefits. Some commonly used apps include Calm, Headspace, and Mindfulness among others.