The Many Dimensions of Wellness for Preemie Parents

Today’s blog post comes to us from our featured Preemie Parent Mentor Andrea. Andrea is our Parent Wellness mentor and dedicated to helping moms and dads of preemies care for their babies by caring for themselves.

Mother with her two children

It’s tough on many different levels for parents of preemies. How do you juggle your emotions and wanting to be with your little one in the NICU while still keeping up with your other children, job, raising your other children. The most important thing is to be healthy and well otherwise you really won’t be able to keep up with everything that is being put on your plate.

For the best possibility of overall wellness it is essential to find positive feelings about each wellness dimension (emotional-mental, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual). A well person is fulfilled in work, is spiritually satisfied, enjoys free time, is physically fit, is socially involved, and has a positive emotional-mental outlook. Many researchers feel that an overall positive outlook is a key to wellness. Being well is individual – meaning everybody’s ideal concept of wellness is different.

So how does one stay well when unexpectedly faced with a traumatic life experience, such as having a preemie or micro-preemie. Obviously there is a lot that is out of your control but the key is how you deal with the situation and how to keep yourself well during that time so you can be the best parent you can be for your child/ren.

Emotional-mental wellness: the ability to cope with daily occurrences and to be able to deal with personal feelings in a positive, optimistic, and constructive manner. An individual who possesses emotional wellness is typically characterized as a happy person.

Being able to deal with your feelings in a positive manner is essential to being well. This means that you know how to deal with those tough days in (and for some; after) the NICU properly. Journaling and/or being able to talk to someone (whether that is a social worker, another NICU family or therapist of some kind) about how you are feeling is a lot healthier than keeping your emotions bottled up. For me, friends and family members tried very hard to empathize with what my husband and I were going through but in reality it was the other NICU families we met who we connected with and talked the most about our little one’s progress. Does that mean we were both happy everyday? Absolutely not; but it helped us deal with how we were feeling in a very beneficial manner.

Intellectual wellness: an individual possesses the ability to learn and to use information to enhance the quality of daily living and optimal functioning. A person with intellectual wellness is typically thought of as informed.

This is tough to do at times, especially in a medical setting when you do not have any medical background and it seems that everyday you are thrown a new medical term you have never heard of before. Needless to say, every NICU family is different and how they use that information. During our NICU stay, I wrote down my daughter’s daily progress report from her neonatalogist so if there was something I didn’t quite understand I could ask her nurse or do some research myself on the internet. My husband and I chose to learn everything about our daughter’s care, what types of procedures or surgeries she may have to have and what the side effects of all of those were. We wanted to be prepared for anything that could happen to our daughter. Some families choose to just educate themselves and deal with issues as they happened. The common denominator is that we all educated ourselves to become better informed when/if something happened to our children. Even learning how to change your baby’s diaper while he/she is in the isolette is educating yourself to better take care of your child while enhancing your overall wellness because you are able to actively partake in the care of your baby.

Physical wellness: the ability for a person to function effectively and be able to meet daily demands and to effectively use free time. This part of wellness includes good physical fitness. A person who possesses physical wellness is typically thought of as fit.

I think for a lot of parents, maintaining physical wellness is one of the most difficult things to do with a child in the NICU. I for one, struggled with this wellness dimension myself. Of the 177 days my daughter was in the NICU I probably walked or went for a run a total of 10 days. I had a very difficult time justifying the time it would take me to by physically active and taking that time away from visiting my daughter.

This month I am hitting on the social dimension of wellness. This dimension includes being aware of, participating in and feeling a connection with your community. Your “community” doesn’t necessarily mean the place in which you live. It could encompass any group of people you have a connection with; such as those you have met in the NICU, in your workplace, etc…

Social wellness is increased through social networks via relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and others who play a significant role in your life. Someone who embodies social wellness is thought of as involved. One is able to interact with others around them, they communicate well, have relationships that are meaningful. One who is socially well respects not only him/herself but also others while he/she creates a support system that includes family and friends.

Ok – so maybe your social calendar won’t look like it did prior to your preemie being born but keeping in connection with friends and family is extremely important, particularly during stressful times such as with a little one in the NICU. Even connecting with friends is often difficult during that time. I know my friends and family tried to understand and empathize my and my husband’s situation while our daughter was in the NICU but the people we really only truly knew how we felt were the friends we made in the NICU – those who were going through exactly what we were going through at the time. We became fast friends with a few families in the NICU and we all depended on each other during those bad days and rejoiced when we had good days.

Nonetheless, staying connected with family and friends is crucial to remain socially well. I admit, I was very lonely during those long hours I spent at the NICU, but I always came home to my family. I was visiting my family in another state when I started having pregnancy complications and my husband and I ended up living with my parents while our daughter was in the NICU. Feeling lonely for periods of time at the NICU is normal, in my opinion.

Social wellness

  • People who are socially isolated are more susceptible to illness
  • People who uphold their social support systems DO BETTER under stress
  • Touching, stroking, and hugging can improve health
    (ah – more support for kangaroo care!!!)
  • Laughter really is good medicine


Enhancing your social wellness:

  • Put self-disclosure (revealing more thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, fears, dreams, likes, dislikes, etc…) into practice
  • Understand your personal needs and pursue things and people who foster those needs
  • Contact and make an effort to talk to the supportive people in your life
  • Join a club or organization that interests you (i.e. get involved in a charity, foundation, or organization you feel passionate about)


Spiritual wellness:

Oftentimes people automatically think of religion when they hear the term “spiritual” and that is not necessarily true. Spiritual wellness may involve a connection with a higher power if that is your choice, but believing in a specific set of spiritual principles is not necessary in order to achieve spiritual wellness (Insight Journal).

In order to reach spiritual wellness it is important to explore what you consider is your own sense of meaning and purpose.

The pathway to spiritual wellness may include meditation, prayer, affirmations or specific spiritual practices that support your connection to a higher power or belief system. Both yoga and meditation can assist one in developing spiritual wellness. One’s religious faith, values, beliefs, principles, and/or morals will define one’s spirituality.

A few questions to ponder regarding whether or not you are engaged in spiritual /wellness:

  • Do you make time for relaxation in your day?
  • Do you make time for meditation and/or prayer?
  • Do your values guide your decisions and actions?
  • Are you accepting of the views of others?

If you answered “no” to any of these above questions, it may designate an area where you need to improve your spiritual wellness state.

Andrea writes: I have my Masters and PhD in exercise and sport science, and have been active all of my life. In April 2010, my daughter was born at 23 weeks and 5 days gestation and weighed 1 pound 3.7 ounces. She spent 117 days in the NICU and has had several surgeries including PDA ligation, laser eye for ROP, Nissen fundoplication, and g-tube insertion.

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About The Author: Andrea Silva