Expecting the Unexpected: When baby goes to the NICU

Judah Williams @33 Weeks

I think that it’s fairly safe to say that no mom at the start of their pregnancy says to themselves, “I just can’t wait until my baby is in the NICU.”    I had three normal, healthy babies with only a few minor complications.  So when baby number 4 arrived at 32 weeks, it’s very safe to say that I was ill-prepared.  (Curious?  You can read what happened on my blog )

Let me start off by saying that every NICU experience is unique.  Each journey traveled by both mom and baby will different.  My opinions and experiences were based on the journey I traveled this time last year with my little Jude.  

I truly believe that nothing can prepare a mom for the NICU.  Looking back at last summer, I think I can summarize it with one word: overwhelming.  Whether a child stays a day, a week, a month or even longer, its overwhelming.  Emotionally, physically, mentally.  I’d love to share with you some of the things I learned being a NICU mom – things I wish I had known or thought about prior to having to experience it first hand.

1.  Ask for a tour of the NICU.  I was really sick when I had Judah so my husband got the tour.  I came in several days later completely lost and it took some time for me to find my way around.   I remember finding out they had a kitchen about three weeks into our NICU stay.  I also remember thinking – how come no one told me!

2.  Ask questions.  There were times I felt like I was bothering the nurses…but I look back now and I realized that I felt more comfortable when I did ask questions than when I did not.  Unfortunately, the one question you really want answered that no doctor or nurse can answer is “when will my baby go home?”  It all depends often on many things coming together and can be hard to predict.

3. Expect the Unexpected.  I’ve often heard the NICU referred to as a roller coaster ride.  This is a very true statement.  There are several reasons for this – first, it’s emotional.  I’m not a crier…at all… but  I cried more in the NICU than probably any other time in my life.  It’s scary and it’s sad and just plain hard.  Second, there are good days, there are bad days and there are really bad days.  Then there are great days, like the day baby comes home.  Every day brings it’s own things.  Rarely is one day the same as another in the NICU.

4. Don’t worry if you can’t be with baby ALL the time.  This was the hardest for me to accept…and probably caused me the most emotional pain because I didn’t take my own advice.  I wanted to be with Judah ALL the time.  I never wanted to leave him.  What new mother would??  But it just wasn’t realistic.  For me, I had three other kids at home including one who was battling her own health issues and also was in and out of the hospital.  It just wasn’t possible for me to be everywhere at once.   So, I did the best thing that I could do which was to set a schedule.

5.  Set a schedule.  The NICU will assign baby a schedule – they will get their feed schedule, their touch times, etc. but you should set a schedule as well.  Even if you could be with baby 24/7  that’s not healthy either.  Jude was in the NICU for a month and by week 2 we had a pretty good schedule going on.  That didn’t stop me from wanting to be there all the time, but it did allow me to know when I would be there next.

The most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a mom (to date) was have to leave my baby at the hospital and go home.  I’m tearing up as I type this just remembering the emotions.

I hope that some moms have found this information something to tuck away…just in case the unexpected happens to you (I really really hope it doesn’t!).  I also hope to write again in two weeks on how to support a mom with a baby in the NICU.   I know I could not have made it without my support system .

Were you a NICU mom?  Do you have any advice to share to other moms out there?


  1. This is all great info to share. wonderful job. We spent 8 weeks in the NICU and your post really brings me back to those days.

  2. Of my four children, 3 were premature. One 25 weeker and two 33 weekers. One of the things I found particularly frustrating was the constant turn over of staff. With my first preemie, I held a staff meeting requesting more consistent care after I had met 25 nurses in a very short span. Because we were there for almost three months, knowing who I was working with every day helped a lot. I also created a notebook that I left by my son’s isolette that helped nurses connect to my family. In it, I let them know that I wanted to bathe baby and launder his clothes, and other such details. I hated the feeling of “hospital’s baby” and needed to make my presence known as a participating parent. That might have been a tad on the over the top side LOL but it made me feel better during an incredibly stressful time of my life. Now said preemies are 8, 4, and 1 and all are doing well.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Abbi. I wish I would have had this valuable information before I delivered. I too, delivered at 32 weeks and my twin boys stayed in the NICU for five weeks.

    I definitely agree with all your suggestions too. One other suggestion that I enjoyed was requesting an assigned day and night nurse.

    I hated not knowing who was caring for my boys when I was not there and one of our favorite nurses said that we could have her assigned to our kids during our shifts.

    That made a huge difference for us. The trust from getting to know a frequent caregiver put our minds at ease. We also felt like it gave the boys more comfort too instead of having soo many people handle them all the time.

    I too started feeling like I was bothering them when I kept asking when they would go home, why they needed to prick my kids in so many places with the IV, when they could have their NG tubes removed, how soon could we do the car seat test….

    reading your story also gave me an idea. I wonder if there is a way we could form a team of NICU moms together and become a support system for current NICU moms. I would have loved to be able to just sit with a mom who has already gone through it, ask questions, and feel relief knowing I wasn’t the only one going through that.

    If you are interested, feel free to email me to see what we could do. [email protected].

    Thanks Abbi.

  4. Great post Abs! Coming from the other side as a NICU nurse I completely agree with all your tips. It also helps us out when we know your schedule so we can save those special things like baths and bottle/breast feedings for you to do. Questions are never a problem! I also highly recommend primary nursing, but I wouldn’t limit yourself to just one day and night shift nurse. Most of us only work 3 days a week at the most, so pick a couple for each shift. You are your baby’s advocate, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

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