4 Tips On Managing Stress While Your Baby Is In The NICU

Becoming a parent for the first time brings lots of emotions and feelings, before your baby comes, while your baby is in the womb, and even after your baby is born. Most mothers have a vision of their birth and bringing the baby home, but when tragedy strikes and you find yourself having to go to the NICU, that reality can be hard to cope with. Now that you find your baby in a chaotic and scary environment, your emotions are all over the place trying to make sense of what is happening. This unexpected (or expected) event can cause major stress and mental health issues that seem out of your control. Here are 4 different strategies to help you stay in control of your emotions, healthily manage your stress, and remain connected to your baby in a distressing environment.

#1: Lean on your support system

Being a NICU mama can feel very lonely so you want to be sure to tap into your community, family, and friends for support. Although they may not fully understand what you are experiencing, feeling like you have people who care about you and your baby will help relieve some of the “I am in this alone” stress.
Talk to other NICU mamas in the hospital, they have a level of understanding and similar experience of having a baby in the NICU. Feeling a sense of community helps you to go through this difficult process and in the end, you and your baby may end up with lifelong friends!

#2: Be Involved

The NICU can be a very intense experience and environment where you feel lost and out of control of your baby’s healing journey. Have confidence that you are allowed to be as involved in your baby’s care as you need to be. Get familiar with the doctors and nurses who are on your baby’s team and do not be afraid to request regular updates on the process of your baby’s medical journey. Find a primary nurse for your baby so that you feel comfortable knowing who attends to your baby regularly. Ask questions if you do not understand what is being said in rounds and speak up if you do not agree with a treatment plan. Advocate for your baby, you are the best person who knows your baby.

#3: Create Normalcy

You had a vision of your baby being home with you so landing in the NICU can feel foreign and odd. Focus on what you can control! Decorate your baby’s room in the NICU so when you visit your baby, it feels more like home. Create a routine for yourself and your baby. Give your baby baths, dance with your baby, read books to your baby, play your favorite song for your baby, hold your baby, bring fun clothes and toys for your baby, take photos of your baby. Changing the space for your baby will enhance their quality of life, create a safe and calming environment, and give you a sense of control.

#4: Be Active, Get Rest, Eat Well

You can easily forget to take care of yourself when you are hyper-focused on your baby and trying to navigate the NICU. Try to get into a healthy routine for yourself so that you do not find yourself burnt out and depleted.

  • Move your body! Even if you dedicate 10 minutes a day to moving; walking, light exercise, dancing, yoga, anything that helps your body feel less tense.
  • Sleep! This is easier said than done right? But imagine this, you are constantly worrying about your baby and get 2 hours of sleep a night. You go into the NICU and are unable to be fully present with your baby, you are frustrated when they cry and angry that you are not connecting with them. Although, worry is inevitable in this situation and environment, making sure you are well-rested will only be beneficial to you and your baby. Try to take naps if you haven’t mastered a full 7 hour night sleep so that you can be present and enjoy time with your baby.
  • Be aware of what you put into your body. Food is fuel and when you are in high-stress situations like being in the NICU, you want to adequately equip yourself for the long days.

Being a NICU mama is not easy and it can cause stress that leaves lasting effects on your mind and body. Practicing these 4 tips can change your experience and life. You will feel more in control, less stressed, more connected to your baby, supported, and confident that you are doing everything in your power to get your baby through this tough time.

Shana Barber, Registered Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco

About The Author

Shana Barber, AMFT, is a Registered Marriage & Family Therapist at Spark All Wellness in San Francisco. She provides virtual therapy appointments for mamas and children.