What to Expect in the NICU
For some people the NICU is an expected experience. Halfway through my pregnancy with Finn I was told I had placenta-previa and would need to deliver via C-section at 36 weeks. My doctor and I discussed the delivery and how I would like it to go and what would most likely happen with our baby after he was born.
I was scheduled to visit the NICU to see the rooms and facilities and to have some time to plan for our time there. At a 36 week delivery the stay was not expected to be long, but they wanted me to be prepared anyways. I never made it to the tour of the NICU due to Finn’s sudden, emergency delivery, but if I had it would have afforded me some mental and physical preparation. If there is a likelihood your baby could end up in the NICU, I highly recommend taking a tour and learning as much as possible to help prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
Here are some things you might learn or questions you might want to ask or consider:
- What will baby’s room look like? NICUs can have private rooms, shared rooms, or simply one large room with lots of incubators. Once you find out what your hospital offers you can plan accordingly. Often in large rooms or shared rooms it is not available, or not easy, to sleep over. In this case you would want to make sure you had housing covered, whether you will be returning home if you live nearby or if you need to look into other options such as a Ronald McDonald House.
- What other amenities are available? Is there a family waiting room? Is there a refrigerator? Microwave? Coffee pot? Is food allowed in the rooms? We had a shared living room space in our NICU where I was able to keep food, get coffee, and enjoy some communal snacks provided by the Ronald McDonald Foundation. Food was not allowed in our baby’s room and I wanted to be with Finn if I was in the hospital, so I often took food out to a patio, or drank a smoothie instead in our room (technically a drink not food).
- What is their visitor policy? At our hospital only one visitor in addition to a parent was allowed at a time and no one under the age of five could visit. This meant our son was not able to meet his brother till he came home and we had to try different ways to help introduce him to his brother and try to explain where he was. This is also a good time to consider what your personal rules will be. Who would you allow into the room? Will anyone else be allowed to hold your baby? Having these conversations ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble later on.
- Is there a prepared care plan in place? If you know your child will need to spend time in the NICU there may be a care plan already set-up. Things can certainly change day to day, but being in the know and a part of the plan can offer some comfort, especially for those control freaks like me. Everything about my son’s delivery was unexpected so there was no plan in place and I was forced to learn to take everything day by day.
- Are there good restaurants and grocery stores nearby? Feeding my family and myself while Finn was in the NICU was a constant effort. It was one more thing to think about, and the reprieve people offered in bringing a meal, taking me to lunch, or sending a gift card was SO appreciated. If you know of good restaurants and stores nearby then when someone asks what you could use you have a quick and easy answer. FOOD.
There are so many unknowns, so many fears and worries going into the NICU, but a little familiarity with the surroundings may offer some peace of mind for you. If you are not given the chance to prepare ahead of time, consider these things as you have the mental capacity to do so and maybe it will give you new ideas about how you can make this time just a little bit easier for you and your family.