Experiencing the birth of a premature or sick newborn is a worrying and stressful time. But while your little one is being cared for in hospital, it’s important that you care for yourself, too.
Self-care may be at the back of your mind, but it’s so important. After all, you need to be physically and emotionally able to look after your baby.
Here are a few tips to help you care for yourself…
- Eat and drink regular, healthy meals. If others ask what they can do for you – say provide some cooked meals! A hearty meal after a long day at the hospital helps keep you healthy, maintain your milk supply, and people who care for you feel like they are doing something useful.
- Accept the help of family and friends.
- Exercise (when medically approved) to alleviate stress.
- The routine hand washing that’s required in hospitals can leave your hands very dry and cracked. Invest in a good hand cream to help soothe your dry hands.
- Keep a journal of your NICU journey and write down daily events, thoughts, and feelings.
- Many neonatal units run parent groups where you can meet with other families and share your experiences. You may find that joining one helps you feel less isolated and more supported in your journey.
- Meet with a NICU social worker, counsellor, or your spiritual advisor. You may find developing a self-care plan helpful.
- Visit your little one whenever you feel able and ask to spend time having cuddles, don’t wait for it to be offered. Your unique smell, the sound of your voice and your touch are all comforting to your baby and will ease your stress while they’re in the NICU, and practicing Kangaroo Care, bathing or establishing feeding are all ways that allow you to parent your baby and establish a bond that will continue to blossom.
- Take a short break away from the unit from time to time. You can take a walk around the hospital or go for a quiet cup of tea or coffee in the cafeteria.
- If you feel you need a break from visitors at home, don’t feel guilty. Those that love you will understand so don’t be afraid to tell them when you need some space.
- You may find it helpful to think about other times in your life when you experienced a crisis or felt overwhelmed, and consider the different things you did to cope, such as talking to loved ones and friends, getting advice from others in the same situation and reaching out to professionals.
- Above all, try and stay positive and be kind to yourself.
Asking for help
Experiencing the birth of a premature or sick newborn can increase your risk of depression and anxiety. So, if you ever feel overwhelmed or that you’re not coping well, it’s important to seek help. Talking to your general practitioner (GP) or other health professional is a good first step in getting help.
You can also…
- Tell someone how you are feeling – a counsellor, partner, or friend. Ask them to stay with you until you get help. Being with someone, even over the phone, increases your safety.
- Call your local hospital or the emergency services and ask to speak to the Mental Health Team, or call a crisis helpline