Challenges of a NICU admission

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Learn about the challenges that parents/caregivers and families must face when a child is being kept in neonatal intensive care, including financial and family challenges.

Key points

  • Most families will need help when they have a baby in the NICU for extended periods of time.
  • Parents should think about getting help for taking care of their other children, finances, work demands, the baby's eventual discharge, and managing time between hospital stays and other responsibilities.

Most people are not in a position to be able to suddenly drop everything in their lives and be with their baby in the NICU 24 hours a day. Income and other financial matters can’t be ignored for long; children need to be cared for, and transportation needs to be arranged. Juggling all of this while still visiting a baby, perhaps for extended periods in the NICU, will be difficult. Again, get help. There will certainly be resources and other help that can be accessed at the hospital which parents should take advantage of. However, parents should not stop there. Parents should draw on whatever other resources they have.

Typical needs

Depending on the expected length of stay, the distance to the hospital from the family’s home, and other factors, parents should think about getting help for the following:

  • taking care of existing children and other dependent family members
  • keeping up with the bills and other financial matters
  • keeping up with the demands at work
  • preparing for their baby’s eventual discharge and arrival home
  • managing time between hospital stays and the rest of life’s ongoing responsibilities

While there may be various services available through the hospital to help parents with these issues, parents should think about who else can help. Even under the best and most normal circumstances of a healthy full-term birth, parents need help. Family, friends, and neighbours are a good place to look to find what they cannot get from the hospital or government agencies.

At the beginning, these types of arrangement are usually made by the father since the mother of the child is recovering from labour and delivery. Additionally, the mother will be encouraged to breastfeed or, if that is not possible, to pump milk so that the baby’s diet is the best that it can be. This may require longer stays at the hospital for the mother.

Get in touch with friends and family and ask them to do specific things such as picking up the other children from school or bringing meals to the house. Remember, new parents who have just had a full-term baby often ask friends and family not to come empty handed when they visit the newborn baby. Parents of babies in an NICU, who need more help than most, should not feel strange about asking for the same types of courtesies.

Practical tips

Making a list of all that you need in terms of practical help may be useful. Going after specific things from specific people and agencies may be less overwhelming. Also, as things get done and are ticked off the list, the stress level will likely drop.

When people ask “Is there anything I can do to help?” say “yes” and give them something to do off your list

Assign someone to be the conduit of information. Parents can often get frustrated or overwhelmed when friends and relatives are all phoning, asking how the baby is doing. Appoint one person to inform the rest and keep that one person informed.

Realize that some people are going to be more helpful than others and not necessarily the ones you expected.

Last updated: October 31st 2009