Communication is always a tricky thing to master among a group of people who are just getting to know each other — like new parents and their baby’s team of NICU nurses, doctors, and aides in the hospital. And navigating a completely new set of very tense circumstances, a body healing after birth, and plenty of emotions make sharing your thoughts and listening to others even more challenging. Here are a few strategies for making the most out of the important interactions you’ll be having with your baby’s caregivers.
1. Learn the language
There are a LOT of acronyms and new medical terms that get thrown around the NICU. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here’s a resource.
where you can look up definitions of NICU vocabulary or read about planned procedures ahead of time to better inform the questions to ask your doctors.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
From day one, NICU parents are bombarded with new and important information. Even if you’re certain that a nurse or doctor explained something yesterday, it’s OK to ask for them to repeat anything you don’t remember. A good NICU practitioner may even repeat information without being asked, so don’t be offended if you’re hearing the same things more than once.
3. Find out when the doctor is doing rounds
Parents visit the NICU whenever they can, but your doctor isn’t always there, and nurses don’t always have the time or the details to fully answer your questions. Try to call the NICU in the morning to find out when doctors are doing their rounds and plan to visit the NICU then. And because rounds times can take place at different times every day, always try to call first.
4. Schedule your calls
When you can’t be at the NICU in person, it’s perfectly natural to want to call at any hour to check on your baby. To make sure your call can be answered, talk with your care team to find a few times that are convenient for both you and the nurses to hop on the phone.
5. Keep in touch through tech
Many hospitals go beyond just visits and phone calls to keep you connected to your baby and their care team. Some have camera systems where parents can securely log on while others offer texting programs to get periodic updates, photos, and videos. Ask what communication channels are available at your hospital and give them a try even if you’re not tech-savvy.
6. Know the policies
Many NICUs will have strict rules about visiting hours, number of visitors, what’s allowed into the NICU, and whether siblings are allowed. They’re all in place to protect the fragile babies and to respect the space shared by other families and staff. Knowing the policies ahead of time can help avoid conflicts and disappointment when you arrive for a visit.
7. Get comfortable with vague answers
“When can my baby go home?” That’s the question NICU nurses hear most. The answer is usually “we don’t know” and it’s the truth. The most specific answers a nurse can offer are explanations for how a decision will be made when it’s time. When most milestones will happen is totally up to your baby and his or her own timeline.
8. Trust the team
It can feel pretty frustrating and scary as a parent to have other people care for your new baby. Those emotions can lead to second guessing and defensive communication. Just remember, the NICU is the safest place for your baby to be to get the best care possible from trained professionals who pour their hearts and expertise into each and every infant in their care.
9. Partner up
Families — and many medical professional — often default to mom as the point person for information and decisions around baby’s care. Ask your doctors and nurses to communicate with your partner and address his or her concerns, too. If you need to, recruit another trusted family member to go with you on NICU visits and meetings with the doctor for support.
10. Manage your visiting time
The answer to the “how much should I visit?” question is completely based on your individual needs and circumstances, like whether you have other kids at home, live far away from the hospital, or are still physically healing from delivery. Listen to your body, and rest when you need to. Self-care, including being realistic about how much time you’re sitting at the hospital, can be one of the most essential factors in not only your own well-being, but also in your ability to communicate effectively.