One in 8 babies born in the UK spend at least a few days in a neonatal unit which specialises in looking after premature or sick babies. Some may have an infection and need IV antibiotics, some may need breathing support or extra monitoring, others may need treatment for jaundice or they may be suffering from other medical complications.
Complications can happen for a number of reasons and it is important not to blame yourself for your baby being born prematurely or requiring extra support if he/she is a term baby.
The length of a baby’s stay in the neonatal unit will vary from days, to weeks or months, depending on his or her needs.
The neonatal unit can seem a very scary place at first, with monitors bleeping and seeing your baby in a unfamiliar surroundings. Many find the whole experience overwhelming and struggle to come to terms with the fact their baby needs to be there. The neonatal staff are there to support you through your stay and they are on hand to talk to you about your baby and support you both emotionally. Staff will help mothers to express milk if you want to and later on to breastfeed if that’s something that is right for you and your baby. Later they are there to help you with transitional care once you’re ready to leave the unit.
Take time to look around your surroundings if you can, there are usually photos and stories on the walls – ‘success stories’, all of which may bring you comfort. Take time to see where the facilities for sitting, relaxing and having a much needed drink are. Staff should give you a tour of the unit and all the facilities, but make sure if they forget, you ask! It is very important for you to take time to eat and drink properly, to have a break and relax, however hard that may be!
Usually before your baby is ready to go home, you are able to stay overnight in the unit, so that you can get used to having your baby through the night and getting used to their needs. If your able to take advantage of this, its normally a good idea to, it will enable you to have some one to one time with your baby without the beeping monitors or too much staff interaction and will help you to continue to bond with your baby before you take them home.
Many parents feel once they leave the unit, that something is missing, that element of support and guidance, the person to prompt them what to do and when to do it, but fear not, it is a usual feeling and goes with time. Support is available when you leave the unit, via Bliss for parents of premature babies (Message boards or helpline) or via support groups. You should get information regarding both in your ‘Bliss Going home bag’ / in your ‘Baby record book’.