For many babies, the NICU stay is like a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks. Of course, the parents are also along for the ride. The following tips can help you deal with your baby's ups and downs.
Give yourself permission to cry and feel overwhelmed. You may be concerned that if you let your feelings flow, you'll never be able to pull yourself back together. But you will. Allow yourself to feel this release of emotion.
Establish a routine. Find a way to balance work, home life and visiting the hospital. Allow yourself to leave your baby's side when you feel comfortable doing so. Your baby needs you, but it's also important to have time to yourself, with your partner and with your other children. Also take time to do things you enjoy, such as exercise. These restful breaks will help you find the strength to keep going.
Connect with other NICU parents. These parents share many of your feelings and struggles. Share your experiences, informally or in a support group. Ask NICU staff if there are graduate NICU parents with whom you can connect for support.
You also can connect with others who understand what you're going through at the March of Dimes Web site Share Your Story. This online community was created especially for families who have faced the frightening experience of having a baby born early or with a health condition. You can ask questions, participate in online chats, share your own story by creating a blog, and read about other babies with similar health challenges.
Explore your spiritual side. It might be helpful for you to reflect and lean on your personal spiritual perspective. You may find comfort speaking with a pastor, priest, rabbi, minister or imam. It is normal for this experience to challenge your religious and spiritual beliefs. In any case, remember that prayer, meditation or quiet reflection can help you find emotional strength and hope, and can guide you through this challenging time.
Keep a journal. Expressing your feelings on paper can help you cope with and move through them. A journal also strengthens your hope and patience, by reminding you how far you and your baby have come.
Vent your frustrations. If your baby has a setback, you may be plunged back into fear and anxiety. Voice your fears, and hope for the best.
Celebrate when you can. When your baby makes progress, dare to experience the joy.
Accept the support of others however clumsy it may seem. Let people know how they can best help you. Go to Family & Friends for more information.
Accept that you and your partner will react differently. Share your experiences and listen with empathy so that you each can feel supported. Go to You and Your Partner for more information.
Excerpted from the March of Dimes booklet, "Parent: You & Your Baby in the NICU", written in collaboration with Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D., and Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D., authors of "Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child: The Emotional Journey".
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© 2009 March of Dimes Foundation. All rights reserved. The March of Dimes is a not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Our mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.