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What to Expect in the Nicu as a Parent of a Premature Baby

Updated on September 17, 2018
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Megan has been writing on all kinds of topics since 2012. Her interests include alternative medicine, gardening, lifestyle, and her kids.

When people think about the birth of their child, they think of the magical experience they see on television. The joy, the smiles; getting to hold their little girl or boy right after being delivered, you know the text book childbirth. However, for some people the birth of their child is one of the most terrifying times of their life. This is not about the text book childbirth when mom and baby are ok with no complications, this is for the parents whose child was born early and they are starting their long journey threw the NICU.

My Personal Experience

I am the proud father of a 6 and 3 year old, who were both born premature. My daughter was born at 29 week and weighed 3lb 1oz, and my son was born at 30 weeks and weighed 2lb 12 oz. My wife at the time had been in and out the hospital for about a month with each of them before they were born and both of my children spent just under 4 months in the NICU before coming home. Luckily for us, the reason for my kids being born premature was due to my wife's medical condition and not any actual issue with my children. Also I have been a paramedic for just under 10 years when my daughter was born and have worked with the NICU a few times over the years; so I was familiar with some of the things that were going to be happening. However, if you are like so many other people, this will be a totally new experience for you and will be one of the most trying times of your life. I hope that I can give you some incite into what you can expect on your journey in the NICU.

Delivery Day

That day that is supposed to be exciting and happy will end up being terrifying and gut retching. As a paramedic I have been in numerous bad situations and have felt fear that most people have not. But nothing can compare to the fear of knowing your child is about to be born early. I remember walking outside to call family while they got my ex-wife ready for the C-section, and breaking down into tears due to the fear. This is ok, and it will not be the last time you will cry during your experience. Remember to ask your nurses any questions that you might have, and if any staff come down from the NICU come speak with you make sure you ask them to. While this is more than likely your first time in this situation, it is not theirs and they can start guiding you as what will happen next. You need to be prepared to not see your child for a while after they are born. It was between almost 2 hours before I got to see my kids after they were born while they were settles into their “toasters” as I called them. Of course the “toaster” are state of the art incubators, what will be your child’s new home for the next few months while they continue to grow and get ready to come home. I will get into them a little more later. However during this time waiting try and relax, I know this is next to impossible, but you have to remember that your child is in the hands of very capable professionals who do this everyday. They should have a nurse from the NICU come and give you an update during this time and give you some ideas as to what to expect once you finally get to be with your child.

First Visit with NICU Baby

So the time has come and your are getting to see your child, what can you expect to see if you had not been told already. Well first thing is they will being their incubator, which is a climate controlled environment that is meant to simulate the uterus as best as they can. You contact with your child will be limited depending on how premature your child was born. I remember only being able to hold my daughters had for a minute or two that first night. Trust me that last thing I wanted to do was to let go of that tiny hand for any period of time. But you have to know that babies that are premature can only handle so much stimulus at a time, but it does get better as they continue to grow. Now back to the “toaster”, the incubator will also typically have your child’s heart monitor attached to is, along with monitors for their breathing and any IV pumps that your child might need for medications and feedings. Also equipped on the incubator are lights for procedures or if your child’s Billy Ruben becomes elevated they can take care of that while they rest in their incubator. Just Incase you did not know, Billy Ruben is the jaundice or yellow color that a lot of children get after they are born, and this is treated with sun light naturally or artificial light in the NICU setting. Now that I have explained the incubator, I will explain some of the devises that your child might be on.

Newborn NICU baby named Bryce. He is a happy, healthy 4 year old now.
Newborn NICU baby named Bryce. He is a happy, healthy 4 year old now.

First thing you can expect to see in some form of IV access, which in NICU babies typically starts as a Umbilical Catheter, which is and IV that goes into your child’s umbilical cord and is secured in place. This is a short term site, and they will eventually place a PICC line which is used for long term use. Typically the PICC line placed on the inside of the upper arm and stays there for until it is no longer needed. IVs are started in the event that your child needs medications, such as antibiotics.

Secondly you will see what is called a Nasogastric Tube coming from either your child’s nose or mouth. This tube is what is used to feed your child until they are big enough to start working on drinking from a bottle. This typically stays in until your child is almost ready to come home and taking the majority of their feedings with a bottle. Both of my kids had theirs in until the last week they were in the NICU.

Lastly, and the most difficult is some form of respiratory support depending on how old your child is gestational. This can include having a breathing tube and ventilator, CPAP, high flow oxygen, and just a nasal cannula. This truly all depends on your child as to what will be needed, however if your child is under 29 weeks, you can expect them to have a breathing tube and be on a ventilator. In my case both of my children ended up with a breathing tube that first day. My son had his right away, while my daughter was on CPAP at first before needing the breathing tube. If your are not familiar with CPAP, you are probably asking your self what it is by now. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and what it does is it creates a pressure inside of your lungs to help keep your alveoli inflated. This allows your body to get oxygen, this is a very basic explanation but hopefully you get the idea. Your nursing staff can explain CPAP in more detail if you have questions.

You made it, you have seen your child and are starting your journey threw the NICU. What can you expect from here on out. While I can not give you a perfect example because every child is different and I do not want to get into the medical side of things to much. I can give you some advise on how to make it threw as a parent. First off, this will be very slow process, as I stated it was almost4 months until my children finally came home. Also remember there will be setbacks, every nurse we had would tell us that. Now some are worse than others, and for you I hope they are nothing serious but they will happen.

You will experience every emotion that a person can have. You will cry more than you ever thought possible, you will laugh harder than you have in a while, your going to get frustrated, your going to get mad, and your going to want to give up because it all seems like to much for you to handle. Always remember you are not alone, you have numerous family’s that are going threw the same thing as you. Reach out and lean on each other, they can be a great source of strength during this time. Also remember, it is ok to take a day for yourself. Your child is in some of the best hands in the world will be ok, and you have to take care of yourself also.

Lastly, ask your NICU staff any questions you have. They might not seem important, but if you want to know something or do not understand something that is happening with your child’s care, ask someone. NICU nurses are some of the best and will be more than willing to answer any questions that you have. There is no point worrying over something that you do not understand, it will only make the process that much harder for you.

I hope this is a good starting point for you on your journey and I wish you and your family the best of luck.

© 2018 Megan Garcia


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