It’s an unfortunate reality that twin, triplet, and other higher order pregnancies can be complicated, and sometimes lead to premature birth. The average duration of a twin pregnancy is 35 weeks, a triplet pregnancy is 33 weeks, and a quadruplet pregnancy is 31 weeks. If your babies are born premature, or with any health issues, this means a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of your hospital.
Many of our members have gone through this experience, and have seen the reality of having babies in the NICU firsthand. Lucky for us, they had some wisdom to impart to any family who is going through this experience, too.
Two steps forward, one step back
Your baby’s progress in the NICU is not linear. Most of our moms described the process as a two steps forward, one step back pattern. And since each preemie’s stay is unique, don’t set dates or goals in your head for your child, as this will only cause you heartache if it does not happen. Stressful situations have a way of slowing down time, but experienced NICU moms can attest, when it is over, you will realize it felt longer than it was.
No NICU stay is the same
Our moms whose babies were in the NICU for lengthy stays said one of the hardest parts was watching other parents take their children home. Know that this feeling is totally normal. Also know that no NICU stay is the same. Each child has different needs, and the NICU care team has no intention of keeping your infant there longer than necessary.
Home at different times
If you have multiples in the NICU, be prepared for them to come home at different times. This will create a mix of emotions. You might worry that your babies won’t form a bond because they are separated. That is not the case. You may experience feelings of guilt when you are holding one infant at home, but the other is still in the NICU. One of our moms of triplets actually brought her other babies back to the unit with her when she visited. While that might not be possible in COVID-19 times, the message here is to get creative with whatever happens.
Your baby is in good hands, so our members highly recommend using this time for resting and recuperating after childbirth. A full night’s sleep might not be on your agenda, especially if you are pumping breastmilk on a regular basis, but the overall message from our moms is to take care of yourself so you can be at your best when you’re with your baby. The nurses taking care of your baby are also there to help you. Let them care for you, and listen to them when they tell you to get some rest.
While a stay in the NICU is not what expecting mothers dream of, it has some benefits. The most important one being that the nurses get your baby/ies on a schedule that you can maintain when you go home. Babies in the NICU also get used to sleeping on a flat, boring surface, so when you get home, no need to use rockers! Another plus: you learn how to take care of your baby from expert doctors and nurses -- something many parents never get.
Advocate for your preemie(s)
Even though there are experts taking care of your baby, your presence at the bedside really matters. You are your baby’s best advocate, and you will know him or her better than anyone. Our moms recommend really paying attention to your child’s sounds, learning their temperament, and getting familiar with their needs. Not only will this help you when you get home, but it will make you a better advocate for your baby when diagnosis and treatment decisions are being made.
Mom (and Dad) guilt
This part might be unavoidable. If you have another child at home, or have taken one of your multiples home already, it might be even stronger. Acknowledging that you feel guilty and talking about it with people you trust is the fastest way to cope with those feelings. Our members also pointed out that fathers and partners will have their own experiences with a NICU stay, and it’s important to honor that.
When your baby/ies finally do come home, you may feel relief, or even fear of having to take care of such a small baby without the help of a care team. Either way, this experience is going to have a lasting impact on how you are as a parent. The next time your child has a health scare, you might even experience feelings of heightened fear or anxiety brought on by your experience. Post-traumatic stress is common in parents whose children spend time in the NICU, as is the lasting feeling that your child will always be fragile and sick. Rather than letting those feelings go unchecked, talk about them with your child’s doctors.
Our members also shared some really practical tips with parents whose children are in the NICU:
With a lot of down time, you might want to bring your phone with you, but phones carry germs. The solution? Bring plastic bags, and place your phone in one each time you arrive. Voila!
Most hospitals provide mothers of preemies with meals. Take advantage of this and eat!
When the doctors do rounds, have a pen and paper handy to take notes. In fact, keep a notebook with you all the time so you can write down questions whenever they pop into your mind.
If you have questions, ask! Many times the doctors can make themselves available at other times of day, not just on rounds, so let your nurses know you need an extra visit.
If you cannot make it into the unit, but you want to check in on your baby, call. Many parents don’t know this is an option.
Once your babies are discharged from the NICU, there might be a few days before your first pediatrician appointment. You can always call the NICU with questions during that period of time.
Many thanks to our members for sharing their experiences for this blog post. We could not do this without you!