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Surviving the NICU: Advice From Moms Who've Been There

Photograph by Getty Images/Brand X

Most people don’t plan for a NICU stay. Most of the time, babies are delivered safe and sound into the waiting arms of their mothers. But it’s not always like that. Whether your baby is there five hours or five months, the NICU is a place of noise, medical professionals and uncertainty. It’s a journey with many emotions that are hard to understand unless you’ve been there. Former NICU moms were asked to share their invaluable advice on how exactly they got through their own NICU stays.

Here’s what they said:

"The best advice I can give new parents is to breathe. No two cases are alike. Everyday is an emotional roller-coaster." -Sarah M., 6-week stay

"My advice is if you ever feel uneasy about a nurse, speak up! There are charge nurses you can speak to. The nurses can make or break your stay." -Ashley S., 10 days

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"Ask to be called and notified of big changes. Be specific as to how you define what a 'big change' is. Make sure they know how you want to be reached. That way in the moments that you do sneak away, you can rest assured that they will call you." -Ann F., 10 days

"We were always present for rounds and always asked lots of questions. We also participated on all assessments and on most days did them ourselves." -Suzanne W., 23 and 26 days

"At first all the machines and sounds are so scary, but you really become accustomed to them after a while. And do kangaroo care. I cannot stress this enough." -Tonisha R., 35 and 62 days

Don't shy away when people offer to help. Take them up on it.

"Hold your babies as often and as long as they will let you. Push for more time if you can. The more you bond with them, the better off you and the babies will be." -Celina H., 58 days

"If your baby cannot latch, start pumping right away to establish a milk supply. It's going to take a tremendous amount of work to try to be there for your baby in the NICU so pump milk for them, and find time to rest and heal yourself." -Jessica P., 19 days

"My advice would be to talk to the other parents. They're really the only ones who know what you are going through. Don't take on the feelings alone. Sitting alone in a room with your baby connected to tubes only hearing the beeping of their machines is lonely." -Heather S., 5 days

"Take lots of pictures and log all their firsts. Remember these moments because when you look back you will remember how hard your baby fought to get home with you." -Jamie A., 4 months

"One of the nurses gave us the advice to not spend all day at the NICU. She was so right. You can get burned out really fast. It's a really hard place to be all day." -Jennifer S., 10 days

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"Ask questions and advocate for yourself and your child. If you're confused, ask for clarification. If you're uncertain of what to do or not do, ask for help. A lack of understanding doesn't mix well with stress and crazy hormones!" -Amanda G., 15 days

"Have faith in the care that your newborn is receiving. It can be so overwhelming with all the technical jargon and constant coming and going of nurses and doctors." -Julie D., several hours and 6 days

"Don’t shy away when people offer to help. Take them up on it. There are websites that can help coordinate those who want to bring meals or enlist a friend or family member to do that. I kept telling people we were fine and probably denied myself some much-needed support. " -Renee C., 56 days

"Enjoy the little things like being able to change their diaper for the first time, taking their temperature, and holding them. The best day ever is when they say that your baby finally gets to come home." -Billie S., 21 days

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