About five percent of all newborns require special medical care shortly after birth due to problems such as premature birth, low blood sugar, birth defects, and infections. Although most of these children do very well, they often require observation in a special care unit. Often they are transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a special nursing unit where they can be watched closely and receive more intensive nursing care than would be possible in the normal newborn nursery.
When a baby has a problem severe enough to require transfer to the NICU, parents face numerous emotions. People spend months to years anticipating the arrival of a healthy newborn baby; when their infant does not meet that expectation, they may feel grief, anger, guilt, and an intense sense of loss. Parents may also feel a loss of control as nurses, doctors, and others provide medical and basic care for their infant. These feelings are a normal consequence of having a sick infant.
One of the first emotions that mothers often feel is guilt. They think that somehow they are responsible for their child's medical problem. Even after being repeatedly told that it was not something that they did, many mothers remain convinced they caused their child's illness. There are very, very few situations where a mother's actions contribute to an infant's difficulties. Mothers need and deserve a lot of reassurance during this time.
What to Do
There are two important ways to cope with this difficult situation. You must have enough information about your child's condition to understand what is wrong and what is being done about it. You need to know your baby's diagnosis, primary doctor's name, and what tests or treatments are being given.
Ask lots of questions and take notes. Doing this will help you feel better and help the doctors and the nurses give you the information you need. Chances are good that your child will do quite well. Survival and long-term outcomes have improved dramatically over the past few years for many babies' problems.
The second and equally important way to cope with this situation is to have someone in whom you can confide. For many couples it is each other; however, some parents find it difficult to discuss these issues with each other and need to confide in a friend, grandparent, or social worker. Whoever it is, your experience will be easier and less stressful if you have someone with whom you can discuss feelings.