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Baby girl in the NICU

What to Know About Your Baby’s NICU Stay

expert advice for managing your little one’s care and your stress

Boy, girl … it doesn’t really matter, right? When we give birth, all we want is a healthy baby. So when you learn that your little one will be staying in the NICU, it can be terrifying and distressing. But in DFW, we’re fortunate to have excellent hospitals and health care professionals who are equipped to help baby and mom through this trying period.

To answer common questions about NICU stays, we turned to Medical City Arlington perinatal nurse navigator Brandi Buss. Buss helps removes barriers to care, works to create a personalized care plan and serves as an advocate for moms and their babies.

While your delivery hospital may have different policies and services, Buss told us about the basics of NICU stays and how things work at Medical City Arlington’s Women’s Hospital.

What are some of the more common reasons a baby goes into the NICU? Some common reasons that an infant may be admitted to the NICU are prematurity, a pre-diagnosed medical condition—such as a cardiac or genetic defect—respiratory issues and infections.

Is it usually a surprise to parents at delivery that their baby would need to go to the NICU? Although NICU admissions can’t always be predictable, advanced technology allows physicians—including OBs, maternal-fetal specialists and pediatric subspecialists (cardiologists, neurologists, pulmonologists)—to often diagnose serious conditions early in the pregnancy, which allows the care teams to develop a plan of care to address the condition prior to delivery.

How often do parents get to be with their baby? Our NICU is open 24/7, [which] allows parents to visit their baby when it’s convenient for them. We encourage frequent visits to increase bonding with the baby. Because every infant that we treat has different needs, your NICU care team will work with you to find the best plan for you and your infant.

Our NICU also offers NIC-View cameras at no additional cost, which allows parents to log in from a computer or phone to have a secure view of their baby.

Is there a typical length for a NICU stay? Every baby is different. Some require brief stays, while others require a lengthy stay. Our goal is to discharge the baby as soon as it is recommended and safe to be cared for in a non-medical environment.

Is it common for Mom to be discharged and have to go home without baby? In some cases, a mom can be discharged before her baby. We realize that this is very difficult for the parents, so we offer flexible visitation hours.

What’s your advice for dealing with the stress of leaving your baby at the hospital? The best advice that we can give is for parents to take care of themselves. Healthy, rested parents are better equipped to manage stress. We also have staff—such as perinatal nurse navigators, social workers and case managers—that can work with parents and their care team to recommend appropriate supplemental services, such as support groups and other resources, that can provide additional support before, during hospitalization and post-delivery.

What generally happens with NICU babies throughout the day? In the NICU, most babies are eating, sleeping and getting the additional support they need to go home as soon as possible. All babies in the NICU wear monitors 24/7 that allow staff to observe their vital signs.

I know I’d want to be with my baby around the clock. Is that possible? We do not have sleep areas for parents in our NICU—however, we offer unrestricted access for parents and they’re welcome to visit their baby at any time. This is true unless the baby is having a procedure that requires a sterile area, or there are unique circumstances which might limit visitation.

Twenty-four hours before a baby is discharged from the NICU, the baby will be removed from all monitors and moved to a rooming-in room with the parent. This gives parents a chance to practice taking care of their baby while their NICU care team is just steps away.

Do NICU families generally get to know one another? Is that a common source of support? Many parents get to know other parents as they visit their own baby. We also offer a weekly NICU support group that allows NICU parents to get to know each other outside of the NICU environment.

Is there anything parents can do to make their baby’s stay more comfortable? Visit your baby as much as you can. You may also bring your own outfits, blankets and other comfort items that can be used on your baby and can be placed near your baby—such as a favorite stuffed animal or a drawing from an older sibling—to provide additional comfort.

And talk to your baby’s care team to determine when the baby can be dressed in their own clothes; some babies, such as those who are very premature and or ill, may need to wear just a diaper until they are stable enough to dress.

What if Mom plans to breastfeed and is separated from baby? We realize that breast milk is still a critical part of your baby’s nutrition during their NICU stay, [so] that’s why we have a team of specially trained lactation consultants that will help guide you through your breastfeeding journey and will work with other members of the NICU care team to develop a plan to meet your infant’s feeding goals. We also offer commercial grade breast pumps for our breastfeeding moms, a private lactation room—located inside of the NICU—and we have a breastfeeding support group to help connect you with other breastfeeding moms.

How has COVID-19 impacted NICU procedures? Having a baby in the NICU is stressful under any circumstances, much less in the middle of a pandemic.

[But we’ve] taken special precautions, adjusting our visitation policies, requiring social distancing and wearing additional personal protective equipment to ensure your infant’s health and safety. Your care team will [also] work with you to educate you on the current CDC recommendations and guidelines to reduce exposure to your newborn. And we’ll partner with you to develop a care plan that will support you [to take all] of the possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to your infant if you’re COVID positive.

The NICU at Medical City Arlington is a state-of-the art, award-winning level III, 35-bed NICU at Medical City Arlington Women’s Hospital with experts in neonatology to care for some of the tiniest and most critically ill patients in North Texas. The highly-skilled care team, consists of neonatologists, registered nurses, lactation consultants, developmental therapists—PT and OT—dietitians and nutritionists, is specially trained to provide the highest quality of care to support the healing, growth and development of newborns.

In addition to the robust care team, the NICU provides services such as total body cooling (therapeutic hypothermia), high frequency jet ventilation and nitric oxide therapy that cater to infants with the most serious neurological and respiratory conditions.

Since family involvement results in measurable benefits to the infants, the hospital offers a NICU support group, NIC-View cameras, 15 private rooms, two rooming-in rooms and a room specially designed for multiples to provide the support that families need.

If a transfer to higher level of care is needed, the NICU at Medical City Arlington Women’s Hospital is part of the network of Medical City Healthcare hospitals, which includes the level IV NICU at Medical City Dallas.

The Women’s Hospital also has the Maternal Fetal Institute, a special program for high-risk pregnant moms to help patients through pregnancy and the birthing process.

What helped you through your baby’s NICU stay? Tell us at editorial@dfwchild.com.

Image courtesy of iStock.