Having a baby at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be life-saving for your baby. Yet, it can also be a challenging moment for any parent. You may have negative experiences such as trauma, depression, and worries. Here’s how having a baby in NICU can impact your mental health and tips for how you can cope.
The Physical Impact on Your Mental Health
The NICU is a lifesaver for critically ill infants. Yet, the physical stay at the NICU can take a toll on your mental health. You may feel exhausted and have less opportunity to sleep. Since the stay is typically longer than in ordinary child delivery units, your chances of anxiety and depression may be higher.
You May Have Anxiety and Worry
Parents deliver in NICU because of concerns over their baby’s health. There’s so much anxiety about your child’s health, the financial cost, or possible medical errors. The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine estimates that between 44,000 and 98,000 American deaths are because of preventable medical errors. Understandably, any parent having a baby in NICU would be worried.
Some Parents Feel Guilt
Parents having a baby in NICU may blame themselves for the situation. As a parent, you may feel there was something you could have done to prevent having a baby in NICU. Sometimes a baby is in NICU for extended periods, and you may feel guilty. Knowing that the baby could be sick for various reasons beyond control is essential. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help you process your feelings.
You May Feel Depressed and Isolated
Having a baby in NICU can be an isolating experience. Many parents envision a rewarding birth experience within a few days in the hospital. The NICU experience may not be what a parent expects. Besides, you may not have access to the usual help in delivery units. The isolation, sense of loss, and helplessness can all make a parent feel depressed and isolated.
You May Leave the NICU Traumatized
Even after parents leave the NICU, they may leave traumatized. You may still have images of your baby wrapped in tubes and dripping fluids. The Right Biometrics reports that 25% of all hospitalized children have an NG/OG tube, with 60% being in a NICU facility. Some reports indicate that 56% of these feeding tubes go to the wrong location. You may have flashbacks, trouble sleeping, and anxiety that your baby could fall sick and need to use these tubes again.
Tips for Coping
Such feelings of despair, depression, and anxiety can detract from your birth experience. It’s okay to feel you need support. The CDC says in 2019, of the 19.2% of adults who had received mental health help, 15.8% took prescription medication, and 9.5% received counseling or therapy. Here are some other tips and strategies to help you maneuver and provide attention to your baby.
- Tip #1: Seek Help: This is the time to reach out to loved ones and friends for support. Even more, talk to a mental health professional, preferably one who has helped parents like you.
- Tip #2: Take Care of Yourself: It’s not selfish. It’s strategic. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and get out a bit. The more strength you have within, the more you can give.
- Tip #3: Talk to Other Parents: Sometimes, hearing the stories of how others are coping can renew your strength and even give you an empathetic perspective.
- Tip #4: Be Engaged With Your Baby: You can do less at a NICU facility than at home. Still, keep involved in feeding or just watching your baby.
Remember to celebrate the little moments, the small milestones for your baby. While having a baby at a NICU facility can affect your mental health, the above strategies can help you cope and keep engaged with your baby.