Dealing with Stress
Families of babies in the NICU experience stages through which most people naturally progress when reacting to a traumatic, grief-producing event. Stages of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and adaptation are all normal reactions for a parent of a premature infant or infant with special needs. In addition, common emotions may also include guilt, helplessness, sadness or depression, self-blaming thoughts, and anxiety or fear about failing to bond with your baby.
For parents who have experienced premature delivery, the mother is often at the most enjoyable part of her pregnancy, not yet uncomfortable and just beginning to engage in "nesting" activities. Typically, families are not yet fully prepared for the arrival of their infant. Upon premature delivery mothers may feel incomplete and long for the closeness they felt with their baby during their pregnancy. Often, a parent's need to nurture their baby can be limited, due to the fragile medical condition of the premature newborn.
Be understanding and gentle with yourself and what you are experiencing. Realize it is very normal to have more intense feelings such as tension, anxiety, and sadness, due to the postpartum recovery period and "baby blues", which can last up to two weeks after delivery. Here are some simple ways to help with coping during your baby's NICU stay:
- You need to take care of yourself. Remember to follow your doctor's orders, get plenty of rest, and eat well. Shower and dress yourself each day. If you don't take care of yourself, you will have a more difficult time taking care of your baby.
- Ask for help from family, friends, and any community organizations you belong to. Accept help with the care of your other children, housework, shopping, or errands. Make a list of your needs, so when someone inquires how they can help, you can tell them.
- Keep a journal or diary of your feelings and your baby's progress. Ask questions at the baby's bedside, and take notes.
- Communicate. Talk with your partner, family, friends, nurses, doctors, and social worker. Sharing your feelings on both your good days and your difficult days helps to keep you from bottling your emotions and bring you relief.
- Celebrate your infant's own milestones and little steps of progress. Take lots of pictures when you come to visit your baby. You will definitely notice the progress your baby has made.
Schedule breaks from visiting the NICU for yourself, or even consider taking one day off. Many parents have difficulty doing this. You may feel like a "neglectful" parent, or worry that something will happen when you are away. These feelings are valid and normal, however you are not a "bad" or selfish person for needing an occasional break from the hospital, and taking time for yourself can help you feel rested and renewed and better able to care for your baby.