Attachment Parenting in the NICU

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
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There are many reasons that infants end up in the NICU. Some situations are preventable through proper nutrition and weight gain for the mother. Avoiding harmful practices such as drugs, drinking and smoking during pregnancy are key factors in avoiding complications for an infant at birth. Having a trustworthy birthing team that avoids unnecessary interventions is also important. Other situations are completely unavoidable. It is estimated that 10-15% of all newborns end up in the NICU. Caring for your infant in the NICU can be overwhelming. It is still possible to practice attachment parenting with your newborn in the NICU.
My sweet Bella spent the first two months of her life in the NICU. I thought I'd share with you some of the ways that we were still able to use some attachment parenting ideas and apply them to the NICU. Of course every situation is different. Some infants may only be in the NICU for a few hours, or a few days, others are in for a longer period of time. Here is some tested advice from our experiences in parenting in the NICU.
10: Be your child's advocate. Clearly you won't be able to be with your newborn at all times during their stay in the NICU. While this is heartbreaking you can still make the best of it and make your wishes known to the NICU staff. Immediately request that no artificial nipples be given to your baby and post signs stating that your baby is being breastfed and is to receive no supplemental feedings. Make the signs large, colorful and also have them put notes on all the nurses notes and folders. If you have a little boy you may also want to place signs saying he is to stay intact and not to be removed for circumcision.
9: Make use of the staff available. You should request a meeting with a lactation consultant as soon as possible.They can make your life a lot easier in the hospital as a nursing mother. Become familiar with the nursing rooms and supplies and ask for support. The lactation consultants in most hospitals can also give you free meal tickets for use in the cafeteria. This helps nursing mothers stay adequately nourished and hydrated during their long stays visiting their newborns. Do not hesitate to ask your nurses and doctors a lot of questions. I know during our stay there were certain doctors that intimidating, even to the other nurses. Don't let this hold you back, it's your child! Keep a notebook with you and write down your questions and concerns so when the doctors do their rounds you are prepared and get the correct answers.
8: Get to know the head nurse that makes the schedules. We had three nurses that cared so well for our sweet Bella, we are forever grateful to them. We felt more relaxed when we knew they were on duty. We quickly learned after meeting with the head nurse that made the schedules that we could request them on a daily basis. It was such a relief to us. Don't be afraid to ask for certian nurses not be on rotation with your infant. Most of the NICU nurses were wonderful, three in particular were out of this world, and a small hand full of nurses were not welcome to take care of my sweet baby. There were a few instances that came up during our stay that made me feel uncomfortable and not happy about the care our daughter was receiving at the hands of a nurse or two. I don't like being confrontational, but this was my daughter. Again I spoke with the head nurse and had these few nurses removed from her care. Your life is much easier when you are comfortable with those taking care of your baby when you aren't there.
7: Practice Kangaroo care and baby wearing. Initially we weren't able to hold our baby. She had extreme hydrocephalus and was shunted the very next day. She had a long recovery. We held her tiny hand until the time we were able to actually hold her in our arms. We brought up kangaroo care, surprisingly this was something they were only slightly familiar with. This became evident when they dug out the dusty privacy screen from storage. It was clearly not used on a daily basis. I can't explain how uplifting it was for me to hold my daughter for the first time skin to skin, let alone the benefits to her. Sometimes you can bring your sling or wrap in and cuddle up with your wee one even while they are attached to tubes and machines.
6: Pump, Pump, Pump. (and pump some more) within first 12 hours, then every 3-4 hours afterwards. The breast pump was my very best friend because it allowed my sweet baby to receive the best nutrition possible. It was also my mortal enemy, because pumping sucks. However I stuck with it for the entire 16 months of her life. Using a hospital grade pump is essential to keep your milk supply up.
5: Use a pacifier. WHAT?! Yes, a pacifier does have a place. I am not normally an advocate for the use of a pacifier. However if you are seperated from your baby they need an outlet for their sucking reflex. Ideally you would meet all your infant's sucking needs for comfort and soothing through breastfeeding. When this is not a possibility, a pacifier can help soothe and relax the newborn. Often premature babies can use a pacifier to stimulate their sucking reflex even while they are being tube fed. In our situation, the pacifier was a lifesaver for Bella. I didn't use them with my other two children. Bella was tube fed during her whole life, so it met the need of her sucking reflex and soothed her.
4: Use wool filled doll to assist mother-baby bonding. Wool will naturally absorb mothers scent and when the doll is left with the infant it slowly releases the mothers' scent to the comfort of the baby. The mom can tuck the wool doll, like Zmooz or Cozy, into her bra and sleep with it a few nights, then it's ready to snuggle with the baby afterwards.
3: Arrange schedules Naturally you'll want to spend as much time as possible with your new arrival. Planning the most effective way to use your time is essential. No doubt you'll have other responsibilities to deal with outside of the NICU, like your other children! This can make it very difficult to juggle your time effectively. I was able to be in the hospital for 3 days with my sweet girl, then I had to travel from home. At that point I made arrangements for me to be at the hospital throughout the day while my oldest was with her Grandma. I came home in the evening and we enjoyed dinner together as a family. We spent a few hours in the evening as a family with big sister. After she was in bed my husband went to the NICU for the night shift, until early morning. This way we were able to spend some quality time as a family, and keeping some sense of routine for my Big Z. It also allowed each of us some time alone at the hospital with Bella and we were able to get some rest at home. It isn't ideal, but it's only a temporary circumstance.
2: Hold your infant as much as possible. This really relates to #7 with wearing your baby and kangaroo care. One lesson I learned from our stays in the hospital, is that it never hurts to ask about holding your baby. They may be hooked to machines and in incubators, but if we keep asking eventually they'll make arrangements for it to happen. Holding your newborn does wonders for you as a new mom, and for your bonding with your new infant. If one nurse says "no", it's not possible, ask the next nurse, and the next until you find the nurse that will work with you to find a safe way to hold your baby.
1: Love Yourself. You may not have been prepared for your baby to be in the NICU. Regardless of when you learned of your baby being in the NICU, it's essential to take care of yourself during this time. Perhaps you are recovering from a Cesarean during this time. This is a major surgery with a painful recovery. You will need time to recooperate. You may feel guilt, shame and major disappointment. You may also be overtaken by grief at the loss of your ideal birth. You may feel helpless for not "protecting" your new baby. All of these feelings are normal. You'll be exhausted, hormonal and overwhelmed. It is essential to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby. Get your rest, eat a diet full in fresh fruit and vegetables, drink a lot of water and find a support system. Let your family and friends help with siblings, meals, laundry, cleaning. You want your baby to be raised in an environment filled with love and respect, so start with yourself.

We have made a short video of our journey with our daughter Bella. It has recently been entered in the Neuro Film Festival sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology. We would appreciate you watching Bella's journey and voting for her video. Please watch "Remembering Bella". Voting ends March 8th at midnight.



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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!


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(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)


21 comments

I'm so sorry your family had to go through having your sweet baby in the NICU for so long. Thank you so much for this list. What a wonderful collection of very important things for NICU parents to keep in mind. I particularly agree with #8. As a nurse, I always liked being requested (or specifically not requested) when it came to patients. Not every nurse is the right fit for every family, and we know and appreciate that.

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This post takes me back five years to when our middle child was in the hospital for five days after she was born. My wife lived at the hospital and I spent all the time I could there. We did the best we could, and it was only five days, but it's good to know that this post is here for others who have similar experiences. Thanks for posting it.

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Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post, it is sooo needed. When my son ended up for his brief stay in the NICU, I felt like all my plans for attachment parenting were thrown out the window.

I wasn't allowed to remove him from his oxygen tent or hold him, and the only touch he recieved in his first 14 hours of life was to poke him with needles and prod him. It made me weep.

The pacifier did comfort him and while I was angry at first to arrive for a visit and see that he had one, I soon realized it calmed him down. Once he got the real thing, he quickly abandoned the paci.

I cannot imagine how grueling it must be to have a baby in the NICU for so long. Mine was only in there for 14 hours and that seemed like forever. You are amazing!

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This is great information. I am so sorry you had to go through it. I am sure it was a difficult time. ((Hugs))

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Aaaawwww, this was so sweet! I love your number 4! I've never had a baby in the NICU, but I've read and seen accounts of what parents go through as well as the baby. It seems to me that it's a scary process for both parties.

I'm so glad you made a video for Bella. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life with us. I hope your posts, like this one, will help other Mamas through their difficult situations.

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My son also was in the NICU after being born ( for 6 weeks). What a wonderful list you have here! I think we did almost all of these, except our feeding circumstances were different than most, since my son was born with gastroschisis and had/has a very sensitive digestive system. For example, our son HAD to receive a bottle for almost all feedings except the 1-3 feedings I was allowed to put him to breast a day. We also weren't able to hold Elliot for a long time, and once we finally could, we could not babywear because he had too many tubes and monitor leads.

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Oh and I wanted to add- kangaroo care is the best!

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Thank you for sharing your experiences. I watched your video about Bella's life and cried. She was obviously loved deeply. I'm sorry that her time with such a loving family was so short.

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My daughter was in the NICU for 3 1/2 weeks after an emergency intestinal surgery at 2 days old. We had no idea in utero or at birth that she had an intestinal atresia, and it was following her feeding cues and seeing that she didn't pass a stool that we figured there was a problem. . . I'm one of those parents that was completely unprepared for having a baby in the NICU.

This list is WONDERFUL. I agree with each of your top ten (and can relate, as well. I remember doing all of these things!) Thank you for writing this - it is a helpful list for sure!

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This is an amazing list.
I'm going to go watch the video now.
I hope moms who need to see this get a chance to. It would make a great magazine article.

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Fabulous post! I think this is the kind of information that would be invaluable to the parent of a child in NICU.

(As a total aside, I read a couple of your Bella posts and I wanted to send some enormous hugs and condolences your way. She was a beautiful little girl and I can't begin to imagine the hole she's left in your lives.)

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We were so fortunate in our NICU experience, in that we were able to room in with Kieran. Of course we were only there 5 days, but the ability to be in his room at any time made me feel much better. Thank you again for sharing your experiences, we appreciate it.

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Just watched Bella's video...it made me cry! What a wonderful way to remember her. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

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Thank you for listing your advice and experiences. I send my deepest condolences to your family! My daughter wasn't in the NICU. I did need to recover from a c-section, but I couldn't even imagine having to heal from that and dealing with a sick baby. :( Now I know that there are some options out there if that ever comes necessary in the future.

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Thanks for sharing this. I'm always looking for resources to share with the NICU parents that I know.

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Sorry you had to go through this.
You are so wise to share this list,your post contains such valuable information.

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Great post! Our first baby was a preemie and she spent almost a month in the NICU and I came to do and realize a lot of what you mentioned...some of it the hard way. I love that you mention it's OK to request particular nurses (and not others), we had a couple of nurses that were so negative and did things that were so wrong...but we didn't realize till later we didn't need to have them around! I also love that you mention to really advocate for yourself and your baby, especially about breastfeeding. I can't count the times the nurses were about to bottle feed my daughter! I think many times parents don't know it's OK for them to state their wishes and ask them to be respected, but it's posts like this that can help spread the word :-) Thank You!

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Wow, what a wonderful and heart-rending post. I so appreciate your sharing the tips that worked for you — it really sounds like you did the best for Bella while she was in the NICU and gave her a gentle attachment parenting start, despite all the obstacles. I think letting other parents know that they're allowed to make choices and verbalize requests like this (such as holding their baby), in a respectful but insistent way, is the primary step. Not all NICUs know about kangaroo care (obviously, from your experience!) or understand why attachment parenting would be a good fit for a NICU baby, so it's up to the parents to suggest it. I feel like your article gives strength and guidance to those who will need it. Thank you for sharing.

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This made me cry! My son was in the NICU for only three days, but it was horrible being separated from him. I was in a high-risk pregnancy, and was considered lucky to have gone full-term with him. Next time, we might not make it full-term, so this information could be very useful! Thank you.

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This was a great post. Thank you for using your less-than-ideal situation to help others make the best of having a child in the NICU. I only wish I would have read this before having my own NICU baby!

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What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing this on the Best ideas for kids linky party.

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