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NICU Survival Tip: Go Home?!?!

The NICU can be a scary and overwhelming place. I remember going up to the NICU only a few hours after my C-section so I could see my babies as soon as possible. It will be hard to erase the memory of the frequent 3 minute hand washes, the smell of the soap, and the sounds of the monitors and machines from my mind.

My biggest frustration when our twin boys were in the NICU was not the fact that I could not take my babies home right away or nurse, it was the fact that I wanted someone to tell me what I could do. The only instructions that I received from the NICU nurses in helping to care for my babies was to 1.) pump milk and to 2.) recover from my surgery.

Pumping milk was the stressful because no matter how determined I was, I could not will my milk supply to come in. It was going to take a few days, like it did with the birth of my oldest son, but this time I was more aware of how long it took because I could actually see what was coming out. I pumped every three hours for almost 5 days before my milk finally came in.

Pumping was frustrating because I knew that eventually my efforts would be fruitful, but I couldn’t make any guarantee of when.  During those five milk-less days, I felt obligated to give the nurses an update on my progress and would shamefully give them ¼ teaspoons worth of colostrum in a syringe. Thankfully it did get better, and by the time the boys were discharged two weeks after they were born, I was sent home with a cooler full of frozen milk.

The best advice that any nurse gave me was to go home and rest after I was discharged four days after they were born. It seemed to go against everything I felt like I should be doing, but it really was the best advice. When we were in the NICU, the things that we could do were limited to diaper changes, temperature taking, limited holding/kangaroo care, and eventually bottle feeds. But these events only happened every 3 hours, so there was a lot of down time in the hospital where there wasn’t anything I could do except for sit in the room.

I had two babies that were being well cared for in the NICU, and oldest baby who had been without his momma for over a month. My husband and I decided that we would go over for a few hours each day to be with the babies, unless we needed to stay longer. I knew that in the long run this would be much better for our whole family and the rest I got while I was home helped me recover so that I was ready to care for the boys when they came home.

For those of you with NICU experiences, how did you deal with it? What were your frustrations and what were you thankful for?

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About Jamie

Jamie is a creative-techie mom, raising three boys under three (twins!) with her husband in Pennsylvania. Jamie now writes at The Red Robinson,


  1. Jamie,

    Thanks so much for posting this! It is definitely what I needed today and I can’t wait to read other responses. I should be getting discharged today, but not the babies. They are doing well, but still hooked up to their bili-blankets for their jaundice. I promised Aubrey that we could go to Dairy Queen today because I will finally be able to do something with her. She has been so sad the past few days and like you said with Will the last month has been really hard on her. I think she’s still a little confused since she hasn’t been allowed to see the babies yet because the NICU is really restricted since there are so many bugs and illnesses going around right now. Any tips for helping her to adjust?

  2. Congratulations Heidi!!

  3. Jamie,

    Yes, the NICU is a frustrating place. The care they give babies are wonderful and they have a reason for everything they do, but I didn’t ever feel like a mom until we left there. Constantly having to ask if I could do something with my son was overwhelming. I also pumped and my milk took a while to come in and when it did, it was pitiful. I only have one baby and couldn’t keep up with him. I was majorly stressed out and it was definitely affecting my milk supply (which everyone seemed to have an opinion about). That was really frustrating because multiple nurses, nurse practitioners, and lactation consultants were giving me different advice on what I could do to increase it. I was drinking milk multiple times a day, taking supplements, eating leafy greens and protein, drinking loads of water, pumping religiously, and still no increase. I think in the end, the stress of having a premature baby who came in the middle of my last grad semester was ultimately the source of my breastfeeding fail, but my son is healthy and happy so really it doesn’t matter to me.

    I also think you did the right thing by staying home and resting even though I know how hard that was for you! I always felt guilty if I did anything relaxing or normal at home because I felt that I should have been at the hospital. Once I was discharged, I spent most of the my days there and it was very lonely (my hubby had to go back to work so he could take time off when Jonah came home). I ended up reaching out to friends/family and would have a few visitors to spend time with me each day. I also started spending only half a day there because it was just too much for me to be there all the time (I would do homework in the mornings at home and then go in around lunch time). As much as I loved being with my son, it was a constant reminder that he wasn’t home with us.

    I also, wrote my favorite scriptures about hope on index cards and placed them around Jonah’s room and crib to help me through those days. It did help me and was also a great witness to the drs. and nurses. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about those cards. I still have them and will put them in Jonah’s scrapbook soon.

    Jamie, we belong to a club that no mother wants to be a part of, but it helped me to learn to rely on others and to trust more in the Lord. And thankfully for both of us, its over! Enjoy those precious babies!!!

  4. Thanks for sharing Kendall!

    The other thing I have found to be difficult recently is trying to find out what normal preemie behavior is. (I think its just eating and sleeping). Our boys sleep most of the day and really are only awake for feedings. I think that is normal, but I would like someone to confirm that and then tell me when I can expect them to start being awake more!

  5. Heidi, I think your thoughts about spending time with her will be good. I started to get really annoyed being asked what Will thought of the babies, because he wasn’t allowed to see him until they came home too. Even if they did allow younger kids, I don’t think I would have taken him in because it probably would have been more stressful on me trying to keep track of him around all their stuff.

    I would do things that she likes to do with you before the babies come home, Dairy Queen sounds like a great idea. 🙂

    We showed Will a lot of pictures, but I don’t think he realized that the babies in the pictures would soon be coming home with us. But, it was nice because he knew they were the babies when we brought them home.

  6. Yep, that was Jonah too. He literally slept all the time!!!!! We had to set the alarm every 4 hours during the night to make sure he was getting enough calories, but we stopped that as soon as his due date hit (a lot of times the alarm would go off). However, once our due date hit, it was like a switch went off. He started acting more like a newborn, only sleeping 2-3 hours at a time and having more awake time during the day too. (We were fooled into believing we had this amazing sleeper, lol.) Jonah’s neonatologist told us we wouldn’t truly know his personality until our due date and he was right. I still ask questions of other preemie parents with regards to milestones, feeding, and all sorts of things exclusive to preemies. Its definitely a different world. Hope this helped!

  7. Jamie, thank you so much for posting this, and Kendall and Heidi, for your insights too. At this point, we have a pretty good feeling that we’re going to end up with a NICU baby, but we have no idea when. As I was born at 25 weeks, and spent 4 months in the NICU, I have this crazy sense of calm, because I know how much God, the power of prayer, medical technology, my awesome parents, etc. all took care of me, and the advances in medicine have come SO far in those 27 years!

    However, while there are some things I may be more comfortable with because I’ve technically “been there before”, I’m really nervous about some of the things that we had planned all along, and how much I’ll be able to continue with those practices. For instance, it may seem like a little thing to some, but I am very serious about the chemical BPA and the impacts it has on us, especially as fetuses and infants. So, we were only going to use BPA-free feeding gear, (glass if we used bottles, BPA-free pacifiers if used, etc.), and I would really like to bring my own supplies so Zane can use those, and I don’t have to worry about badgering the staff. But will I be allowed to do that? (And that’s just one issue…aside from what he’s fed while milk comes in, or the chemicals in the mattresses, etc.)

    I believe strongly in our rationale for why we’re doing these things, and that rationale isn’t going to change in the NICU. However, I’m trying to figure out where I might need to adjust my expectations, and where I should stand my ground. Insights or ideas on how to address such issues are very welcome!! 🙂

  8. Well, for feeding you will start out first with a feeding tube. I’m not sure what it is made of but probably the same material they use for iv tubing.

    There aren’t any mattresses in the incubators, they just lay on a stack of hospital receiving blankets.

    The bottles they will more than likely use are medela bottles. These are what we were given in the NICU, they are BPA free ( The bottle nipples they used were latex from Enfamil.

    They will more than likely need to be fed formula and supplements, even after your milk comes in to help them gain weight. Pre-mature babies need more nutrients to make up for what they would have been receiving through the placenta the last few weeks before birth. Unfortunately breast milk isn’t going to cut it alone. But once your milk does come in, they will use it 80% of the time. Our boys were fed 8 times a day, two times were an enfamil preemie forumla and the rest were breast milk. They also had to take vitamins every day too. But, as soon as they went to the doctor coming home, he told us we could stop using formula and now they are on breast milk alone. Try not to think of formula as being bad though, breast milk is just a better choice and because of that the NICU nurses will encourage you to pump milk and they will use it.

    There will be a lot of things out of your control, and I think for your sanity I would chose your battles wisely. They are only going to be in the NICU for a short time (even if its 8 weeks) and that is so minimal in comparison to the life that they are going to live at home. You will have more important things to worry about and adding a bunch of other stuff on there is going to really get you down.

    Good Luck! We are praying for you 🙂

  9. Kendall says:

    Carey, what hospital are you delivering at? I delivered at Aultman and I can tell you what they used with Jonah. I do agree with Jamie, to choose your battles wisely. (The NICU drs. and nurses are great and approachable and I’m sure they’re going to work with you, but in the end they will always do what’s best for the baby). Having a baby in the NICU is more overwhelming that I ever imagined and there is so much to think about and absorb. If you’re taking birthing classes, you could always ask the nurse who is teaching the class what she knows about their supplies. Let me know if I can be more helpful. You can always message me on facebook. Hopefully you won’t even have to deal with the NICU! Come on, Zane! Stay put!!