Kristin offers advice for women with a baby in intensive care.
Well, it’s such a stressful time, for one thing having a baby. When you have a baby who has an illness or is premature or for whatever reason needs to be whisked off to NICU, it’s terrifying and you feel so helpless and you are supposed to be bonding with your baby, but instead your baby is taken off into this really sterile environment where it’s filled with machines and other people who are there to take care of your baby and know more about how to take care of your baby than you do, and that can be scary.
It can just kind of knock you off your feet because most of the time you don’t expect it when you have a baby unless you are prepared for the possibility of prematurity, which not many people are.
But it is a very stressful environment, and when I had my son in NICU for two months, it took me a long time to really feel like I had bonded with him. At first he was just this little two-pound being that was hooked up to all these different wires, and machines were beeping everywhere, and I didn’t know what any of it meant. And other people were touching him and taking care of him, and I felt so helpless. I couldn’t even breastfeed him.
He was too little developmentally; he couldn’t suck. So he had to have a feeding tube, and that in itself was horrifying to see. But it is a really scary place to be, and I have heard all kinds of statistics where something like nearly 90 percent of couples who have the baby in NICU for any period of time, whether it’s a day, a month, a year, they tend to get divorced. It really can break up your relationship because it is such a stressful time.
One thing I learned when my son was in NICU is how to really bond with your baby, and it’s a challenge. For one thing, you are not living there all the time. You go in and out of the hospital; you feel like a guest; you feel like a stranger surrounded by all these beeping machines, and you really feel like other people are better qualified to take care of your baby than you are, but when it comes down to it, there are things that you can do.
There’s a wonderful thing you can do with your baby and actually any mom or dad can do this with their baby. It’s called kangarooing, and that’s something I learned about during our time in NICU. And it’s where you take your baby and they just wear their diaper, and you lay the baby skin-to-skin on your chest for any period of time, whether it’s 30 minutes, an hour, depending on how long your baby can stay out of the incubator.
And it’s an amazing opportunity to really feel that skin-to-skin contact. There’s something about feeling your heartbeats together, and it’s so comforting for the baby, and there have been a lot of studies on kangarooing and how helpful it is, and I did that as much as I could while my son was in NICU.
And I would sometimes sit there in a rocking chair with him on my chest, just laying there, curled up, and I’d do that for maybe two or three hours at a time, and it was so peaceful and a great way to bond.
Even if your baby isn’t able to breastfeed and is taking milk or formula in by a feeding tube you can still, if you want to breastfeed, you can still pump and make sure that the nurses in NICU get your milk to your baby to make sure that it goes through that feeding tube so he or she get your nutrients and all the good things about your breast milk, and even just the act of pumping and knowing that your milk can go to your baby is also part of the bonding process. You feel like you are contributing in some way.
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