Taking a preemie home after a NICU stay can be as terrifying as it is exciting. Homecoming is happy, of course, but many a preemie parent has burst into tears upon being informed that they would be going home as a family for the very first time. Immense joy is paired with worry, especially if your premature baby is coming home with monitors and medication.
Though the NICU is an inescapably stressful environment, it’s also a source of 24/7 support from medical professionals and experts in prematurity. Traveling back and forth to and from the NICU most days and learning to balance the need to be by your preemie’s side with your other responsibilities may have been intensely difficult. In some ways, making the transition home can be a relief.
But many parents of preemies find that the stress of the NICU is replaced by a new brand of stress – at least for a time. Moms and dads are suddenly not only thrown into the world of round the clock infant care, but may also be dealing with special monitoring equipment, oxygen, bottles and pumping paraphernalia, and the knowledge that it’s their job to recognize if something is “off” and to act accordingly. All this, while figuring out how to do the shopping, go back to work, coordinate medical appointments, and in many cases, schedule early intervention and other therapies.
Once you’re home with your preemie, the support system that built up around you during the NICU days can drift away. People assume that a hospital release means perfect health, when many preemies come home with specialized medical equipment, extremely weak immune systems, and feeding issues. Some friends and relatives won’t understand why they can’t just drop by for a visit, and you may face criticism from those who assume you’re being overly cautious.
Making the transition home with your preemie isn’t all jitters and uncertainty, though. While the first few days or even weeks can be emotionally and physically taxing, eventually you’ll settle into a rhythm that’s right for your family and good for your baby. Home may not have all of the medical amenities of a well-equipped NICU, but it has a lot that NICUs don’t have. Peace and quiet, for example – or if there are older siblings at home, opportunities here and there for peace and quiet. Home has mom and dad and lots of love. A chance to play and read and cuddle and learn and eat without the hustle and bustle of the NICU in the background. Preemies thrive at home!
Why? Because at home moms and dads of preemies, who for the first few months often had to rely on the readings of machines and the knowledge of nurses, finally get the chance to experience their babies’ quirks and habits and personality one on one. Eventually these parents – whatever health and developmental challenges their preemies are dealing with – settle into a routine, create strategies for coping with the effects of prematurity, and can get down to the business of simply enjoying their children.