by Lyndsee Baldwin
According to the CDC, 1 in every 10 babies is born preterm. Researchers define preterm as a baby being born before 37 weeks gestation, and the more preterm a baby is, the more at risk they are for more significant andsevere complications. November is Prematurity Awareness Month, helping raise awareness of preterm birth treatment and prevention. When babies are born premature, they are admitted into the NICU to receive the care that enables the continuing development of their organs, such as the lungs, and skills, such as the suck-swallow-breath mechanism. A baby’s lungs are one of the last organs to develop and are fully developed around 37 weeks gestation. This is why most preterm babies need respiratory support. The suck-swallow-breath mechanism is the foundation of an infant’s ability to feed orally. Infants born at less than 32 weeks gestation don’t have the sucking and swallowing skills they need to safely feed by bottle or nipple. This is why you’ll see babies with small tubes in their nose or mouth. There are so many aspects of a baby’s development, making navigating the NICU and prematurity tough, so here are some tips I’d love to give to parents who are trying to navigate this rugged terrain that is the NICU.
- Know that there will be ups and downs. Your baby will have good days and bad days. The NICU is a roller coaster. At times, you’ll take one step forward and two steps back. Trust that the NICU staff will be there to help alleviate your fears.
- Participate in care times and rounds as much as possible. Parents are the backbone of a baby’s care team! We’re in this together, and the last thing healthcare providers want is for parents to feel helpless and that their voice doesn’t matter. During rounds, every provider contributing to your baby’s care plan is all in one place, making this the perfect opportunity to hear how your baby is doing and ask questions. Taking part in your baby’s care times is the best way to get to know your baby and make it feel like you have some control. Learning about your baby’s condition will allow you to be the best advocate for your little one. Learn all the how-tos on caring for your baby from the NICU experts so you gain the confidence to do everything independently. Don’t hesitate to create a warm environment and make your baby’s bed space feel like home.
- Celebrate the wins, no matter how small! The NICU can be an overwhelming and draining space most of the time, and celebrating every milestone is significant. Your baby gained an ounce and tolerated all their feeds; they came off oxygen, they latched for the first time, whatever it may be, celebrate them all! Celebrating the big and small victories will help take your mind off your worries about your baby.
- Document the journey. If your baby is born at 28 weeks, they’ve got a lot of growing to do, and you’ll want to remember it! You won’t be able to notice the day-to-day changes. Take pictures and videos, keep a journal, get footprints and handprints, and use a smartphone app to help track your baby’s growth and development. Nurses love to help with these things, so don’t hesitate to ask. You’ll likely forget things amidst the chaos and stress, and I promise you these are things you’ll want to remember.
- Ask for and accept help. Sometimes, asking for help is the hardest thing a person must do. This is a time in your life when support is crucial. You might be able to handle everything alone, but you shouldn’t if you don’t have to. Your priorities will undoubtedly be your
- Take time OUTSIDE of the NICU. Spending 12 consecutive hours at your baby’s bedside is incredibly easy to do. The NICU can be very draining, so allow yourself space outside the NICU. Get some fresh air, get your body moving, get something to eat, or find a quiet area to relax your mind with a book and a coffee. As important as it is to be present for your preemie, it’s equally as important to take a break and take care of yourself. Your baby needs you to be strong and clear-headed. You are the best advocate for your infant, so it’s your job to be in a position that allows you to do that.
Every year, approximately 15 MILLION babies are estimated to be born premature worldwide. Giving birth to a child is supposed to be one of life’s prime, most positive experiences, and having a preterm baby brings enormous challenges, trauma, and lifelong struggles. Raising awareness for prematurity is the first step in conquering it, but it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, we will continue fighting for preemies and help give their parents peace of mind as they navigate the NICU. For all the parents out there with a preemie in a NICU, if you can conquer the NICU, you can conquer anything!
Lyndsee Baldwin a registered nurse with over 6 years of experience in the NICU. She started in the NICU right out of nursing school and couldn’t imagine working anywhere else! Lyndsee’s favorite thing about being a NICU nurse (besides the babies :)) is forming bonds with the families.
“I love that I can provide the education that gives parents the confidence to take care of their preemie. I am also a military spouse, currently living in Vicenza, Italy with my husband and two dogs. I have recently started my freelance health writing business in the hopes that my medical knowledge can help even one person.”
In her spare time, Lyndsee enjoys traveling with her husband, running and yoga, reading, and snuggling their dogs!