Parenting in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)Parenting in the NICU
In most cases, you can be with your baby in the NICU at any time. The staff of the
NICU will give you instructions on special hand-washing techniques before entering
the area. Sometimes, masks are needed. Occasionally, during a procedure, or when the
hospital staff are making "rounds" with other families, parents may be asked to wait
for a few minutes before coming into the area. Although most NICUs permit visitation
of babies by other family members, limiting visitors is a good idea. Many sick and
premature babies are very susceptible to infection. Siblings should be carefully checked
for signs of colds or other illness and be helped with hand-washing before visiting
their baby brother or sister.
Most parents find that becoming involved with their baby's care gives them a sense
of control and helps them become closer to their baby. This is also important for
the baby. It helps the baby feel secure and loved. Once a baby's condition is stable,
parents are encouraged to hold him or her, especially skin-to-skin. Staff in the NICU
can show you how to care for your baby in many ways. Learning these aspects of care
is helpful in preparing you to take your baby home.
Emotions and responses
Having a baby in the NICU can be a shock for many parents. Few parents expect complications
of pregnancy or their baby to be sick or premature. It is quite natural to have many
different emotions as you try to cope with the difficulties of a sick baby.
Some common responses to the experience of having a baby in the NICU may include the
Shock over the unexpected birth
Mother's physical weakness after birth
Disappointment over not having a healthy baby
Feelings of helplessness
Fear about procedures and tests
Separation from baby
Anger at self and others
Feelings of guilt over things done or not done
Crying, sadness, emotional upset
Fears of the future, worries about long-term outcome
Parents react to these feelings in different ways. Some find it easy to talk about their
concerns. Others keep their feelings inside. Some parents may not want to get close
to their baby, or might want to wait to name their baby. Coping with all of these
feelings and emotions is often easier with the help of support from others who have
been through the same kind of thing. Be sure to ask about parent support groups and
hospital staff members (for example, social workers and counselors) who can help.
Most parents find that time away from the NICU can help them cope and deal with their
It is normal for parents to feel anger, guilt, sadness or other negative emotions.
But sometimes these feelings become really strong and you might need some help sorting
them out. If you have these feelings longer than 2 weeks after your baby's birth,
or if they get worse, or if they keep you from caring for your baby or yourself, you
need to get professional help. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others,
you need to get help right away. Call your healthcare provider and make sure they
know that this is a serious problem. Or, call 911 (or your local emergency services)
or go to the emergency department at your local hospital.