My top 10 tips for life after NICU – Megan’s story

After five weeks on the neonatal unit with her son Fergus, Megan had to adjust to life at home without the support of unit staff.

It is only now that I'm a year on from NICU that I can look back and reflect on the ordeal of becoming a mum of a premature baby. My motherhood experience kind of feels “normal” now, something I never thought would be possible as I sat by my baby’s incubator watching the nurses look after him. “Life after NICU” was a distant thought. Before giving birth, I considered myself a healthy person of normal BMI and had an active lifestyle. But then I developed pre-eclampsia at 30 weeks and everything changes. This diagnosis developed into severe pre-eclampsia at 33+1 weeks, and I was rushed into surgery for an emergency c-section.

Boom, baby Fergus was with us, weighing a tiny 3.5lb. After a gruelling rollercoaster five weeks, my husband and I heard the most amazing news: “Fergus is ready to go home now”.

So after our initial delay, my husband and I finally got to experience being parents at home as a family. Okay, it was a little different. Not all parents have to take an oxygen tank or apnoea monitor home, but we got to finally change a nappy when we wanted to, feed when we felt Fergus needed feeding and leave a building without being buzzed out.

You have so much support when you are in hospital; whether it’s from the nurses or family but then on discharge you’re on your own and it can feel very lonely and scary. That being said, I’ve put together a few tips to help other parents adjusting to life at home. I hope that no matter your unique personal experience, you’ll find some of them helpful.

Restrict visitors to times convenient for you

Finally you’re all out of hospital and the world and his wife want to visit. Don’t be afraid to say no – you’ll want time to be a family in your own way.

It’s OK to feel nervous about being home

I remember when we came home and Fergus was no longer hooked onto a multiparameter - how can that be OK? Well it is, the doctors wouldn’t have let you out if they didn’t feel your baby was strong enough. You will always think the worst but that’s because one moment in hospital can change very quickly, so I think it puts you on edge all the time.

Be kind to your partner or those supporting you

What you say during the night when you’ve had no sleep is forgotten in the morning. You’re a team, so work together.

Try and go to baby classes

It filled me with dread the thought of other germ-filled babies all in one room, coughing and sneezing over each other, but I thought I would become a house recluse if I didn’t go. Plus, I wanted Fergus to experience everything a normal baby did, after all he’d spent five weeks of his life in a goldfish bowl.

Meet up with other NICU parents

The people I met in hospital are now my closest friends, they have experienced the same sort of thing as you and feel the same worries and fears in life. We message each other any time of day and moan to each other about how little sleep we’re getting.

Get out of the house

Even if it’s just a walk down the road. You’ve both been stuck inside a hospital for a long time. Fresh air can help your sleepy, zombie state of mind.

Accept meals from relatives and friends

Having lived off hospital or microwave meals, my husband and I wanted home cooked food. It was a saviour when family offered to bring round food in exchange for a cuddle.

Cancel plans if you’re not up to it

I always felt guilty if I let people down last minute but I learnt to look after myself so I could care for my baby. Some days were good and some were bad.

Embrace the “small” comments

Although there is no harmful intent when people comment about how small your baby is, it can feel hurtful. Try to remember that there is no malicious intent behind the words and do your best not to take these comments to heart (easier said than done sometimes I know!)

Don’t feel you have to go out 'baby-free' if you aren’t ready

It’s not easy the first time you leave your baby, so make sure you’re ready. It’s not that you don’t trust the person looking after your baby, it’s more the fact you really do not want to leave their side after any length of stay in hospital not being with them. Take your time and move at the pace you are comfortable with.

Now I’m back at work, life beyond NICU isn’t as bad as I thought. Some days I didn’t even think we’d make it this far but with the amazing doctors and nurses my not-so-little boy is fighting fit! He has the cheekiest smile and is a ridiculously tough cookie.

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