After a grueling, non-medicated 38-hour labor, I finally delivered with the help of a very last-minute epidural. My daughter was born a month early and weighed only 3 pounds. She spent 9 days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), and the experience was not what I had imagined for the birth of my first child. There were many difficulties and challenges to overcome while my daughter was in the NICU, but what surprised me the most was the comments and advice I received from family, friends, and even strangers! If you ever find yourself reassuring or comforting a family member or friend who has a newborn in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, here is a list of 10 things not to say to a NICU mom!
What Not to Say to a NICU Mom
“It must be nice not to have your baby in your hospital room while you recover.”
Do not say this! During those days of recovery, I would have given anything to have my baby with me. Although it may seem like an innocent comment, it is upsetting to a mom who has to leave the comfort of her room, sometimes travel several floors to the NICU, and sit in a room with other moms and NICU nurses bustling around just to be with her baby.
“This gives you more time with your husband.”
No offense, babe, but I’m always with you and would love to be with my brand-new baby. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; you’re just not the pressing priority.
“Having your baby in the NICU gives you more time to rest and prepare meals and your home for when she comes home.”
My daughter had to stay in the NICU for 9 days. Unfortunately, my hospital was not willing to host me for that length of time. I was discharged after just two days . . . without my baby. Leaving the hospital with an empty car seat was one of the most heartbreaking and emotionally crushing things my husband and I have faced. We knew she would eventually come home, but leaving without her was devastating, to say the least.
We were not cleaning and making bulk freezer-friendly meals waiting for our baby to get discharged. Instead, we were traveling back and forth to the hospital. All day, we would spend sitting in our daughter’s room. I was pumping to have breast milk even though she was too small to nurse and living off Tim Hortons (which is delicious, just not for every meal). That’s not my definition of restful. It was much more draining and exhausting than just snuggling up on my couch, dressed in whatever I wanted, and enjoying my new baby.
“To be able to recover without worrying about your baby must be nice.”
Worry is all I did while my baby was receiving Intensive Care. Because I had to go home to sleep for at least a couple of hours, I couldn’t be with her 24/7 like I would have been if she were home with us. And during those hours, I worried myself sick. Was she okay? Did she eat this time? Was she able to maintain her temperature yet? A million things! Trust me; recovery is harder when you’re so worried that you can’t rest.
When are WE going to be able to visit your baby?
Receiving visitors was its own stressor. There were only two visitors allowed in her room at a time. And one of them had to be a parent. We had to take people back one at a time. Not so bad, except my husband and I are both from families of seven! And most of our siblings also have spouses or significant others who were dying to meet our bundle. If you’re not immediate family or a very close friend, do not expect to visit a baby in the NICU.
“It must have been nice to deliver such a small baby.”
Although my insides were very happy that she was only three pounds, I would gladly have carried and delivered a larger baby if it meant she would have been healthy and been able to come home.
You have to try harder to breastfeed because she’s a preemie.
Although breast milk is magical, especially for underweight babies, I could not put her to the breast because she would lose weight if exclusively breastfeeding. Pumping and bottle feeding was our way of life, which was just as wonderful.
“Stop worrying. She’s being taken care of.”
Again, do not tell a NICU mom to stop worrying. Just don’t!
“I hope she doesn’t have mental or physical delays.”
People who say this are very insensitive. It is one of the worst comments to say to a NICU mom. My baby and many others receiving care in said NICU are premature or experiencing other serious issues. Fear of mental and physical delays was constantly at the front of my mind. I would have loved the encouraging and positive thoughts instead.
“She won’t be able to bond with you or form an attachment since you can’t hold her.”
This is just crap. My daughter and I bonded instantly, and our attachment was strong. Cuddling, scent cloths, and other tools are used in the NICU setting. Mom and baby are encouraged to bond further, even though you often cannot hold your baby immediately.
Being a NICU mom is difficult, and we need the support of our family and friends. Please remember to be a compassionate, listening ear in this time of need. For more, learn how to help a NICU mom and show that you care.