Most pregnant women never imagine that their baby might need time in a NICU. Consider the possibility and think about choosing a hospital based on the level of care offered for newborns. Be aware of where you would want your baby treated in a medical crisis.
Kristen Tippit never imagined her baby would end up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Her son, Otter, was born with dangerously low blood sugar. Doctors and nurses treated him in the NICU for nearly three weeks in the spring of 2020.
Tippit described it as “a long, overwhelming, worrisome and confusing 20 days.”
About 10 to 15 percent of babies born in the United States end up in the NICU each year. After Otter recovered, Tippit and her partner, Jon Porter, of St. Louis, decided to create a nonprofit organization to educate and support other parents going through a similar experience. They recently launched Logic.baby featuring videos from neonatologists, nurses, social workers, mental health specialists and other former NICU parents.
They also shared tips on things they wish they had known before their son’s NICU experience and what parents can do to help their babies.
1. Prepare for the unexpected.
2. Educate yourself beforehand.
Couples who are expecting multiples or those in high-risk situations can learn about the NICU before going into labor. Request a tour of the space and check out videos and articles that explain the staffing and equipment present. “If we would have had more information and known more about what we were getting into, we would have felt less out of control and overwhelmed,” Porter said.
3. Take advantage of the support offered.
Therapists, nurses, social workers, lactation consultants and medical specialists are all part of the support network for families in the NICU. They can also help connect you to the right resources.
4. Get both parents involved in bonding.
As a first-time father, Porter said he learned how to prepare his son’s bottles, change diapers and handle pumped breast milk while in the NICU. “It felt great to be so involved,” he said.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Parents may feel overloaded with information. Porter recalled moments when he said, “I don’t understand that. Can you please repeat that?” Or, “I’m kind of freaking out. Can you start over?” Another question Tippit and Porter asked a specialist was, “What are some things we should be asking about? What are the questions other parents have asked?” Those answers helped inform their conversations with unfamiliar specialities.
6. Build relationships with the staff.
Tippit and Porter brought coffee and snacks for the staff, were mindful of the demands of their work and politely phrased their requests instead of making demands.
7. Create a communication plan.
Not all parents can be at the hospital at all times. Find out when doctors do their rounds and request to be called with an update at that time. Some hospitals allow video calls, making it easier for parents to connect with the medical staff.
8. Learn how to be an advocate.
Parents are an integral part of their baby’s recovery. Tippit said there were moments when they requested an additional meeting with doctors before making a medical decision. Even though parents may not have medical training, they still know their baby, she said.
9. Rely on the nurses.
Porter said they asked the shift nurse to accompany them when they had a meeting with the doctor. The nurse could also ask questions and debrief them afterward.
10. Try to coordinate schedules.
Complicated medical issues require a team of various physicians. Tippit said they asked if their baby’s attending doctor could call in or be present when the endocrinologist would check in. It gave the doctors a chance to communicate while the parents were present. They could not accommodate this request every time, but it was helpful when everyone could be part of the same conversation, she said.
11. Notice any odd patterns.
Their baby required frequent heel pricks to check his blood sugar levels. When the initial reading was high, the nurses would have to draw blood, which was more painful and invasive, to run a more thorough test. His parents noticed that blood samples would often come back normal even after the heel prick number was high. They asked if a second heel prick test could be taken to double check the first reading. Noticing this pattern cut down the number of times their baby had to get his blood drawn.
12. Take care of yourself.
Remember to lean on friends and family, especially if you have other children needing care at home.