- Expressing milk
If you plan to breastfeed your baby, you'll need to get a heavy duty breast pump in order to pump often, given that you won't have a newborn to stimulate your milk production 24 hours a day. Some hospitals will lend breast pumps to mothers of NICU patients. If your hospital doesn't offer that option, be sure to invest in a high quality, double pump. Some health insurance policies may cover the costs of borrowing a pump or investing in one. And, given the costs of breast pumps, it's worth asking.
- Milk supply
Make sure to get bottles from the NICU for storing your breast milk, as well as identification stickers to put on each bottle where you will write your baby's name, your own name, and the date the milk was pumped. Find out where the breast milk is kept in the NICU and see if you can personally put your new bottles there and rotate the oldest breast milk to the front of the refrigerator. Also, be sure to check that your breast milk is being used. Some nurses on overnight shifts may not know that your baby is consuming breast milk and may use formula instead. If that's the case, talk to the staff to make it clear that you are providing breast milk.
When you're not in the hospital with your baby, pump at hourly increments which mirror the infant's schedule in the hospital. For example, if your baby is being fed every three hours, you should pump every three hours so when the baby comes home, you'll be on the same schedule.
If your newborn doesn't drain your breasts during nursing sessions in the hospital, you may want to use a breast pump directly after a feeding to express the remaining milk.
- Scheduling breastfeeding
If your baby has the strength to breastfeed and you wish to breastfeed, make sure you and the nurses establish a schedule so you can time your arrival with the first feeding. Call the NICU from a cell phone when you're on your way, particularly if you're stuck in traffic, so you don't miss a feeding.
Your Time in the Hospital and at Home
- Be realistic
When you're sitting around in a hospital family waiting room for days on end, instead of in your living room with your baby and your family, you aren't likely to be in the best of spirits. It's okay to feel sad and lonely, particularly if you're a new mom with surging hormones. However, if you believe you're feeling overly emotional be sure to speak with your OB/GYN.
- Take care of small tasks
Some parents like to tackle small tasks while they are sitting around in the hospital and are not at their baby's bedside. (Many nurses will ask you to leave the NICU after your baby has been changed and fed because your presence may stimulate your infant when she needs her sleep in order to gain strength.) Aside from bringing reading material, you could try to take care of small tasks, like writing thank you notes, birth announcements or paying bills.
- Don't call everyone every day
Don't feel obliged to call every member of your family every day with a status report, particularly if news isn't good or remains unchanged. Perhaps you could designate one person whom you'll call and that person could spread the word to other interested parties. Or, if friends and family have Internet access, you or your spouse could send a daily e-mail update. But if keeping everyone updated is upsetting you—some folks may have inappropriate comments such as, "What, he didn't eat again today? He doesn't sound like he's improving."—tell everyone you'll call when you can, or just have a spouse contact people.
- Take help from others
In situations like these, people often offer to help. Take them up on their offers. Your baby may now have special needs for which you didn't plan. For example, if the infant was born prematurely, he may need preemie clothes, onesies and diapers, or other baby items you didn't anticipate. Tell a family member or friend what you need and ask them to purchase the items.
If your refrigerator is empty, phone or e-mail friends or family members who've offered to help and ask them to pick up a few things for you. Let friends bring you food at the hospital (you'll be sick of the hospital cafeteria food) and at home, particularly in the form of easy-to-make meals. You'll be in no mood to cook once you get home from the hospital, at which time you'll either be pumping milk or sleeping—so if people can bring meals to you, that'll be one less thing you have to worry about.
Undoubtedly, the time you spend in the NICU with your infant will seem like an eternity, especially when the longing to rock your baby without being watched by a staff of 15 eagle-eyed nurses is strong. Your baby will eventually leave the NICU and, in what will later seem like the blink of an eye, will rapidly transform into a toddler whose favorite pastime is grinding food into your best carpets. Enjoy the tidiness now for, in a few short months, it'll be short-lived.