April 17, 2024

10 Things Your NICU Nurse Wants You to Know

By Grace Boddie, RN at the Elliot Hospital NICU

As a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Elliot Hospital, every day brings a multitude of emotions, challenges, and moments of profound connection. Through countless interactions with parents, I've come to understand the unique journey families embark upon when their little ones require specialized care. I’d like to share 10 essential truths that my colleagues and I wish every parent navigating the NICU experience knew.

Through these insights that I offer to families who might need us in the future, I hope to offer reassurance, guidance, and a deeper understanding of the intricacies involved in caring for precious newborns. It's not just a job to us; it's a privilege to walk alongside families during this transformative time.

1. You and your babies become family to us, too. This is so much more than a job, and we don't just "shut off" when we leave the unit. We go home and think about you and your babies.

2. We take care of your babies like our own. They are admired, spoken to, sung to (usually badly), held, and rocked when you cannot be there. We answer them when they cry, and they are never really "alone." 

Elliot Hospital NICU3. You are the most familiar and comforting thing to your baby, and they know you. They know your voice, touch, and smell. It can feel isolating in the NICU, and many parents express feeling afraid of touching or hurting their fragile babies. We will show you circumstance-appropriate ways to touch and talk to your baby if you are feeling hesitant. Your baby is most comforted by you!

4. Your opinion and input are important. You are a valued member of the team, and you are your child's best advocate. Nobody knows your child as well as you do. Speak up if you have concerns and ask as many questions as you can think of. Your worries, thoughts, and opinions matter more than you know. We want to support you as much as we are supporting your baby.

5. No question is a bad one! We want you to understand what's going on with your baby. We want you to feel empowered and included as an active member of your baby's care. Ask questions, even if you think you may have already asked them, or the question has already been answered. Many times, in the whirlwind of a delivery and NICU admission, parents are overloaded, and information goes in one ear and out the other. We will happily repeat ourselves as many times as it takes for you to understand. 

6.    We want you to be involved! We never want you to feel like an outsider in the care of your own baby. The cords and wires can be intimidating, but we will guide you through even the simplest of tasks until you feel comfortable. We love it when you're there for diaper changes, repositioning, feeds, and other care tasks. If you're not sure how you can be involved, please feel empowered to ask.

Learn More About the Elliot Hospital NICU

7. However you are feeling about your NICU stay is okay. A NICU stay, especially if precipitated by a difficult or unanticipated delivery, can be very traumatic for you. It is normal and okay to feel feelings of sadness, disappointment, anxiety, and even anger. It is okay to grieve the loss of a "normal" birth and postpartum experience. Talk to us - we understand and can help try to guide you through some of these feelings. 

8. It is not your fault. Many parents have lingering feelings of guilt over their baby being in the NICU. We want you to know that in the vast majority of cases, nothing that you could have done differently would have changed the outcome. What is most important is that your baby is here now, and we will do everything in our power to nurture and grow your baby to be strong and healthy, whatever that journey may look like.

9. There is no "one size fits all" in the NICU. Many parents want to know what happens next. How long until my baby can come home? Is this normal? The truth is that every baby is different. We try to give you some idea of what may happen, what our plan is, and what to expect to the best of our ability, but the fact of the matter is that babies run the show around here. A milestone may take one baby several weeks to accomplish, whereas itElliot Hospital NICU may take another baby a few days. It can be hard not to compare, especially when you see other babies around you seemingly moving along faster than your own child, but we try to remind you that a baby's progress is dependent on hundreds of different factors that you may not see, and progress is often not linear. 

10. Take time for yourself. It is okay to leave- that's why we're here! We understand that parents want to be here as much as possible, and we love having you, but we urge you to care for yourself too. The NICU road can be long and stressful. Remember to eat, sleep, hydrate, and spend time in other areas of life that are important to you. Balance is key during a NICU stay. Some parents feel guilty not being at the bedside all day with their babies, but we want you to know that when you're not here, your baby is safe and well taken care of. Your baby needs you to meet your own needs so that you can best take care of them. 

Navigating the NICU journey is undoubtedly one of life's most challenging experiences, filled with uncertainty, emotions, and moments of both joy and sorrow. Among the whirlwind of emotions, the unwavering dedication of the NICU team and the enduring strength of the bonds between parents, caregivers, and precious little ones remains. 

As you continue this journey, know that you are never alone. Your NICU nurses, like myself, are here to support you, guide you, and celebrate every milestone, no matter how small. Together, we will navigate the ups and downs, cherishing every moment and embracing the resilience that defines the NICU community. Your courage, love, and unwavering dedication to your baby's well-being inspire us every day, reminding us of the profound beauty and strength that lies within the NICU journey.


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