During the excitement of pregnancy, parents try to prepare for everything. They choose a name, research all of the baby products, buy swaddles and sleep sacks, decide between non-BPA plastic or glass bottles, decorate a beautiful nursery, install a car seat, think about baby proofing the house, and they may even take an infant CPR course.
The one thing no expectant parent plans for is a NICU stay.
It can be extremely overwhelming to realize that your baby will spend time in the NICU after birth. There will be a lot of emotions, a lot of questions, and many times, a lot of unknowns. The most important thing I can attest to is that the doctors, nurses, and staff in the NICU are AMAZING people. They are compassionate, knowledgeable angels on earth, and you should utilize them as a resource and for support during your baby’s NICU stay.
With COVID-19 protocols to limit exposure, parents are no longer able to come and go from the NICU throughout the day. This means that parents must be prepared to bring all of the essentials they’ll need for a successful and comfortable visit all in one trip! As a two-time NICU momma, here is my list of the top ten things you need to make your experience as NICU parent a bit more comfortable.
A water bottle with a straw
Be sure that the water bottle is always within arm’s reach! Hydration is so important during the postpartum healing period especially for mommas who plan to breastfeed or pump.
Hydration=Increased Milk Supply!
Why the straw, you ask? During your NICU visits, you will spend most of your time feeding your baby, doing skin to skin, or simply holding and snuggling your baby. This special bonding time keeps your hands full and you will often only have one hand free. Having a straw to drink out of will make things much easier for you to stay hydrated!
A pumping bra
If your goal is to breastfeed or bottle feed your baby with breastmilk, maintaining a regular pumping schedule is important. This will allow you to build your milk supply as your baby is growing and building the strength to nurse. It will also provide breastmilk for bottle or tube feedings throughout the day. An early pumping schedule usually looks like pumping every 2-3 hours for 15-30 minutes at a time. Having a pumping bra allows you to do other things with your hands during those hours of pumping every day like reading a book, scrolling through social media, eating a snack, or just relaxing!
Being in the NICU for hours each day can be exhausting, and it is crucial for mommas to take care of themselves. This means eating regular meals and snacks! As with hydration, eating is especially critical for breastfeeding and pumping mommas since your calorie intake will directly impact your milk supply. Pack high protein snacks that will help keep your satisfied throughout your visit. I also recommend packing a meal if you are visiting during a mealtime. Take a break, leave your baby’s bedside, and nourish your body!
Entertainment to pass the time
As much as you want to hold and snuggle your baby, there will be times that you find yourself sitting by your baby’s bedside just watching him or her sleep. Remember, newborns usually sleep 16-20 hours in a 24-hour period and preemies need even more than that! It is helpful to have something to do in between the feedings, diaper changes, nursing assessments, and snuggles. Ideas include books, magazines, podcasts, crossword puzzles, or work that is not too stressful (like this blog post I’m currently writing this by my son’s NICU bedside). 😊
A nursing pillow
If you are planning to breastfeed your baby during the NICU stay, a nursing pillow is SO helpful. The hospital will provide you with a regular pillow if you do not have one, however the support of a nursing pillow can be a gamechanger in those early breastfeeding days! My favorite nursing pillow is My Brest Friend; it is supportive and has a little pocket in the front too (perfect for a nipple shield that many preemies rely on in those early nursing days)!
A phone charger with a long cord
You will use your phone to take countless photos of you precious baby, make calls to family and friends, listen to podcasts, and scroll social media to pass the time. Be sure that you have a charger with a long cord to keep yourself connected to the outside world.
While your hands are literally full, headphones will allow you to make calls to friends and family and listen to things on your phone without disturbing your neighbors. The NICU can be close quarters and it is always a good idea to be respectful of those around you. Remember, most of the people in the NICU are going through a similar experience to you! Treat them how you would like to be treated.
A Sweatshirt or Cardigan
The NICU is often kept warm to help all the preemie babies regulate their temperature. As a postpartum momma, you are dealing with hormonal changes that can make your body temperature change drastically. This can be a complicated combination if you do not plan your wardrobe ahead of time! When you are dressing for your NICU visit be sure you can take off or add a layer to make yourself comfortable. You will thank me later!
If you just gave birth, you have a lot going on with your body! Be sure you bring along all the supplies you need to take care of your healing. This may mean a peri bottle, pads, ice packs, extra underwear, breast pads, and nipple cream. Your NICU may provide some of these supplies, so check with them ahead of time and come prepared!
With a baby in the NICU it feels like you wash and/or sanitize your hands approximately 1,000 times every hour! You will wash/sanitize when you enter the NICU, whenever you enter or exit the bedspace, before you touch the baby, before you change the diaper, after you change the diaper, before you pump, after you pump…you get my point! All that hand washing and use of hand sanitizer can make your hands EXTREMELY dry. Do yourself a favor and throw some hand lotion in your bag before you leave home!
Lastly, give yourself grace
I am in the fourth week of my second NICU experience and there are days that I still forget things. I have found that making a checklist with all of my essentials and packing my bag the night before helps to set me up for success for the following day. If you find that you have forgotten something that you need and cannot leave the hospital due to COVID restrictions or some other reason, ask your nurse if the hospital can help. Chances are, they will have something that can meet your needs.
Although this NICU stay was not part of your birth plan, know that your baby is in the absolute best place for now. There will be a day in the near future, that your baby will be home and that is when the real fun of having a newborn will begin!
Jennifer Hopley is a wife, mother to 4 ½-year-old and 1-month-old sons, and dog mom to a boxer pup. She experienced premature rupture of membranes (PROM) at 30 weeks gestation with both pregnancies which resulted in several weeks of hospital bedrest. Her boys were born at 34 and 33 weeks respectively and both spent the first part of their lives in the NICU. Her two experiences in the NICU taught extraordinary life lessons, including gratitude and patience!
Jennifer has been a Clinical Social Worker for over 14 years and has worked in many different settings and with many different populations. Since having my own sleep challenges with my oldest son, she has jumped into the world of pediatric sleep and helps tired families regain the peaceful sleep we all yearn for.
To learn more about Jennifer and to schedule a FREE 15 minute Discovery Call, click here.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.