Self Care Tips for the NICU Parent

by Maegan Sheiman

The NICU is not exactly a place of rest and relaxation.  As a parent of a NICU baby it can feel like you are constantly drowning in a sea of uncertainty, stress, sleep deprivation, medical terminology and emotional turmoil. All of this can pile on quickly, if not all at once, and it is important to take a step back whenever a small moment arises to care for yourself.  These moments may be few, between all of the doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, scans, and bloodwork rotations. Not to mention feeds, diaper changes and your child’s change in medical status, but every now and then the stars align and you will find yourself maybe 5 minutes or even 2 hours of actual time to yourself. How you choose to use this time could be key to surviving the roller coaster that is life in the NICU. Rather than diving into Google to research more about your child’s condition and statistics here are some helpful tips of self care for parents in the NICU.

  1. Step away from the Social Media Platforms: It is easy to get lost in the mindless scrolling of negative news, NICU pages, statistics and more.  Frankly it can start to be quite overwhelming.  While it is important to learn and relate with other parents that can offer advice, it is just as important to give yourself the downtime you need.  Listen to music, read a book or even a trashy magazine, invest in a good adult coloring book to give yourself the mental break that takes your mind away from your surroundings of alarms, medical terminology and numbers.
  2. Eat Something Healthy:  It is no secret that ironically hospitals are not surrounded by healthy food options.  Not to mention, when you are stressed and exhausted fast food can be a satisfying go to. Your baby needs you to be healthy too. Eating something lighter may be what you need for a little more brain power. Find a place that has a good salad. If there’s nothing close by, look into a food delivery service in your area.  Many will deliver to the NICU door or to hospital floors.  If you have a Ronald McDonald house close to your NICU try attending the free lunches or dinners provided by other parents every so often.  This allows for a healthier option and it’s a good social opportunity to meet other parents in the NICU.  I found this to be especially useful in getting information on doctors in our hospital. It was great to hear feedback from other parents on their experience with various specialists.
  3. Write Everything Down: Get yourself a nice journal and start documenting each days events.  Writing can be therapeutic and can help you clear your mind of the days events. This is not only a good way to keep track of changes in your babies statistics but also a great way to track progress and memories.  As a NICU parent you don’t have the luxury of capturing the standard milestones parents get to capture in baby books.  Create your own with a journal.  Every little victory is worth celebrating.  I often still return to my NICU journal to remember how big these little victories/milestones were.  Each one gets you that much closer to graduation.
  4. Talk to Someone: When you are in the NICU all of your conversations revolve around your child, their medical status, and other medically related topics.  You may find this especially true in all conversations with your significant other and close family.  It’s hard to consider even discussing anything else because the NICU is an all consuming experience.  Make a point to change the conversation.  Ask how they are doing.  If one of you was able to get away for a bit or go to work that day then talk about their events outside of the NICU.  Call a friend and check in.  Focusing your energy away from the NICU can make all the difference and get you mentally back to a better place which can better prepare you to handle the next obstacle that may come your way.
  5. Breathe: Find a quiet place in or out of the NICU to just sit and breathe.  Many hospitals have garden areas that I often found to be empty and under used.  Get a quick 5 minutes of fresh air and sunlight on a bench, close your eyes and take a deep breath or two or three.  If you meditate, do some breathing exercises. Whatever your destress method may be, lose yourself for a moment and allow yourself to let go and maybe even relax for just a moment.
Coloring while doing Kangaroo Care in the NICU

These may seem like minor and practical steps and there are many more things we can all do to ensure we care for ourselves in the toughest of times.  The most important thing is to listen to your body and know when it’s time to take care of yourself.  You are not just your baby’s advocate, you are your advocate and you need to be at your best to care for your baby.  These small moments can be the game changer in helping you overcome the unknowns that the NICU can bring over the next few days, weeks or months.  Most of all no matter what you may feel remember you are not alone, you are stronger than you think, and you got this.  
Keep Fighting.

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About The Author: Nick Hall

Nick founded Graham's Foundation in memory of his son, whom he lost to prematurity. Graham's Foundation supports parents through the journey of prematurity and is committed to making sure that no parent goes through that journey alone.