5 Things Preemie Parents Teach Nurses about the NICU

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You didn’t choose the NICU. You didn't choose the tubes, the trials, the wires, and the worries. You didn’t choose to start off parenthood drenched in fear and uncertainty. As preemie parents, you had no choice.

But I did.

As a nurse, I chose the NICU and I continue to choose it every single day when I walk through the doors of the neonatal intensive care unit.

I choose to be there in the darkest of dark moments, in the panic and in the awe, in those moments of uncertainty and in the moments of fear. I choose to be there in the happy moments, the firsts, the milestones, and witnessing these tiny little human beings grow and thrive day in and day out. I choose to put myself out there for whatever lies ahead and I hope that I can make a difference in one way or another, even if it seems small or insignificant to some.

But in this choice, I also choose to open my eyes to the bigger picture. To see beyond the "job" and to look at what nurses are truly doing at the bedside. The impact we have on a daily basis and how the interactions nurses have with the babies and their families can really make a difference.

It is through my interactions with preemie parents that I have learned some of the most significant aspects of NICU nursing. Preemie parents have shown me a side of the NICU very few nurses REALLY take the time to see, through their eyes, and I am grateful for the insight they have given me.

Here is a list of the top 5 things that preemie parents have taught me about the NICU, things that are never learned in nursing school and are true-life lessons straight from the bedside:

1) It’s more than just the numbers: NICU nursing doesn’t just mean providing intensive care for medically fragile babies focusing on routines, numbers, orders, statistics, medications, and treatments, but also providing gentle, supportive, responsive, and developmentally appropriate care for babies on an individual basis focusing on the specific needs of each baby and their family.

2) Provide a supportive environment: Medical technology is important for the growth and development of preemies but so is a nurturing and a loving parent’s touch. Providing a developmentally supportive environment for each baby AND their family has beneficial effects that promotes positive outcomes not only medically for the baby, but emotionally for the parents.

3) Be family focused: Family centered care is much more than a building concept, a protocol, or a fancy phrase for a single room NICU set-up. Family centered care is a way of nursing that encompasses the entire family and focuses on their importance in the care of their baby. Getting parents involved not only by informing them on the medical aspects but recognizing that their baby is part of the family and the family is part of the NICU team. It’s important to have parents involved in the day-to-day routines of the NICU, honoring their central role in caring for their baby, and supporting them as they nurture and love their baby through the journey.

4) Each baby is special: The medical aspects of the neonatal care are important but they should not be the only focus in the NICU. Parents want to know what is going on with their baby but don’t really want to know every single medical detail straight from the textbook. Speaking to parents about their baby as an individual and not just another medical case is not only heartwarming but essential. Teaching parents to look beyond the wires and tubes and see their baby for who they are will help them bond with their baby and bring a sense of normalcy to a situation that is far from ideal. This journey is hard to say the least, but bringing some joy to it by encouraging parents to recognize some of the little moments of the NICU; looking at the progress their baby has made and acknowledging the positive aspects of the journey can inspire hope and healing. Letting parents know that these moments matter not only to them but to you, and that you are there to walk the journey with them, can make all the difference in the world.

5) Develop a rapport: Remember to slow down once and awhile and REALLY listen to parents. Providing emotional support is a huge and important aspect of NICU nursing. Helping parents verbalize their feelings will help them normalize these feelings. Building a rapport with parents will help them find their footing on this emotional terrain. Having a positive and supportive relationship and a trusting environment for parents is so important. Parents won’t remember exactly what you said, they won’t remember exactly what you did, but they will remember how they were affected by your presence and your attitude. They will remember that you listened, how you were supportive, and that you showed you cared.

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