I really had no idea what to expect when the Cub Twins were admitted to the NICU.
Initially I was told their stay would be blissfully short—up to five days. I guess therein lies my first practical tip: don’t psych yourself up for a discharge date until you’re signing the final paperwork and loading baby into their car seat.
My boys ended up staying 15 days in the NICU, and our experience in level II care, while emotionally trying, was nonetheless thoroughly positive. (The twins were born at 36 weeks and 3 days and were admitted to the NICU for low birth-weight, with further complications including difficulty maintaining body temperature and difficulty feeding on their own.) I got some great pointers from fellow MoMs (that’s Facebook shorthand for Moms of Multiples), and I figured out a few things myself. So if you find yourself a NICU parent, hopefully these tips will help you manage during this tough (but remember, not permanent) state of limbo.
- Dress the Part
Were I in the maternity ward or at home with my newborns, I would have been skin-to-skin with them as often as possible. Same deal for Papa Wolf. Heck, since we’ve been home, I’ve mostly just worn a robe.
It wasn’t as convenient to be skin-to-skin with the twins while in our NICU cubicle, but the first thing I realized was that I could wear a button-up shirt to make it easier. This way, you won’t have to strip down completely to hold your babes on your chest, and for the breastfeeding mama, it’s also easier to feed this way.
I tried to feel as at home as possible every day in the NICU, and like most Canadians and apparently some Americans, I do not wear shoes inside! I brought my slippers to wear in the ward, and honestly, I also shuffled around the hospital in them all day rather than tugging my winter boots back on. My feet and ankles were also pretty swollen for the first week, making slippers much more comfortable. So, pack comfy footwear.
While our NICU supplied the clothing for all their little patients (mainly donated by past parents), if you need to dress your baby during their stay, choose sleepers with snaps. This helps accommodate the wires that attach them to their monitors.
- Prepare to Pump
If you are planning to breastfeed, you’re going to form a very close bond with your breast pump. Both at home and at the NICU, you’ll be pumping somewhere between every two to four hours.
Wearing a button-up shirt will help for pumping, but for a real gamechanger, wear a pumping and nursing bra. There are pumping bras that are strapless and wrap around your breasts, but you have to remove your nursing bra to use them. You can also just hold your pump over your breasts, but then you are trapped with no free hands. A nursing bra that is also a pumping bra allows you to conveniently breastfeed baby and then to pump! I also brought my My Brest Friend Twins Plus Nursing Pillow which made nursing and pumping much more comfortable.
My time spent pumping in the NICU was my time to read, answer emails, play Tetris or mindlessly scroll social media, and my Cake Maternity Yoga Pumping & Nursing Bra (not the bra pictured) made that possible. I even convinced my NICU neighbour to buy one! (I now own three …)
- Park Like A Pro
Hospital parking is expensive. It’s more than expensive: it’s almost unaffordable. At our hospital, it costs $14 a day to park. What we didn’t know until later was that we could buy a parking pass for only $40 per week. By the time we figured this out, we’d already parked for a week paying full price.
Once you know you’ve got an indefinite NICU stay ahead of you, look into the parking options at your facility. If it’s possible, arrange to be dropped off and picked up, especially during those first few, zombie-like days—I highly recommend it!
All told, we spent $160 on parking and $100 on taxi fare. (We live 10–15 minutes away from the hospital, and some evenings and some early mornings I spared my husband the job of driving me by taking a cab.)
- Talk to People
I’m notoriously socially awkward offline, so I can’t really tell you how to do this, just that you should do it. Parenting a newborn at home can get lonely, but in the NICU you’re surrounded by other parents who completely understand what you’re going through. I was slow on the uptake, but I finally got up the courage to strike up a conversation with the mama next door to us, and now that we are both home, we text each other for updates and moral support. When we’re no longer married to our breast pumps, surely we’ll get together!
Besides fellow parents, you’re also surrounded by many health professionals who are dedicated to helping you and your baby thrive. Don’t be shy: ask questions! A lactation consultant visited the NICU five times a week, and I was glad to meet with her to make sure we were on the right track for breastfeeding. All of the nurses had different tips and tricks to offer, as well as just friendly, normal, adult conversation. The doctors were always willing to take the time to answer my questions, and it’s important to not be shy: if you don’t understand the terminology, say so!
- Pack Food
You are at the NICU to feed your babies, but don’t forget to feed yourself. We ate at the hospital cafeteria and coffee shop a lot, spending $200 over the course of 15 days. I would’ve spent a lot more if I hadn’t also packed snacks and meals. I didn’t have time to make myself anything much; I just bought a bunch of frozen dinners and single-serving yogurts to keep in the NICU fridge.
- Go Home, Please
The first few days my boys were in the NICU, I was there from the crack of dawn till after nightfall. I would get home, pump, sleep, pump, sleep, then get up and do it again. I soon realized that it was counterproductive to burn myself out like this. Rest now. I began to leave in the early afternoon so I could nap and spend time with my older children. Papa Wolf or my mom would head in for an evening feed or two, which helped ease my mind about abandoning them. (Even if nobody comes in to visit in the evening, I promise, this is a good choice for you and your baby.)
If you have other children, going home will also help them adjust to you bringing home their new sibling(s). Speaking of home and other responsibilities, ask for help. Get as much help as you can on the home-front, whether that means hiring a cleaner, having your mom move in with you or accepting meals from friends and neighbours.
There are basically no people more qualified (other than you and your partner) than NICU nurses to care for your babe, and a healthy, rested mama is one of the best things you can give your babies. Leave the nightshift to these dedicated men and women. Rest now, because there will be no one to take the night shift when your baby graduates the NICUniversity! I credit the rest I was afforded by my boys’ NICU stay with the relative success of our first weeks home.
One Final Note
When you’re in the midst of a NICU stay that seems like it will never end, it’s hard to see the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. In the grand scheme of your baby’s life, this NICU stay is but a drop in the bucket.
As an eternal optimist, it helped me to see the positive aspects of having the babes cared for in the NICU, not the least of which was getting much more rest than I ever could have if they had been released with me. I also had the time to learn a bit about caring for twins, and the boys got used to sleeping swaddled in their cots. My first two babies never slept anywhere but by my side, so bringing the twins home and being able to bundle them up and put them to sleep in their playpen with minimal fussing has been pretty phenomenal!
The first time the boys were set to be discharged, I got a call before we headed in to pick them up saying they would have to stay longer as both of their temperatures had dropped. After that, both of their conditions worsened for a few days: they stopped feeding well and had to get feeding tubes, and their temperatures remained irregular. The nurses helped me see how fortunate we were that the boys hadn’t gone home with us when they were supposed to. If their conditions had worsened at home, we’d have had to take them to the children’s hospital, where they would’ve likely been subjected to unnecessary interventions. Once you are discharged from the NICU, you cannot go back, and the NICU is very likely the best place for your baby to be!
If you’re a new NICU parent, or if you anticipate your newborn will be admitted to the NICU, I hope these tips will help make your experience as positive as possible!