September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month and, while you might already know that a NICU is an important area in many hospitals, many parts of these unique places are often surprising too! As a NICU nurse – and former NICU patient myself – I wanted to share a few of the things many people don’t know about NICU life.
A lot of big – and little – bright spots happen every day
The number one response I hear when I mention I’m a NICU nurse is “wow, that must be so hard!” And yes, some days are hard and some days are very hard. But there are so many joys too. A mother getting to hold her baby for the first time, helping a family learn to care for their baby, seeing our patients overcome different obstacles, the list goes on. Also, I’m pretty sure every NICU in the world has a core group of nurses who are excellent crafters and can make cute little milestone celebrations and really impressive footprint art for literally any holiday. Our patients can stay on the unit for a long time and those of us caring for them often form close bonds with the babies and their families. While these joyful moments are meaningful – and fun – we always hope that what we do brings our NICU families a little bit of normalcy and that their time spent with us gives them some good memories too.
It takes a “village”
Doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones who care for babies in the NICU; there’s a whole team of healthcare professionals, all trained in the specific needs of babies. Spend time in a NICU and you’ll meet respiratory therapists, social workers, case managers, lactation consultants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, speech therapists, pharmacists, patient care techs and more! Everyone has their own role, and we all rely a lot on each other to provide special knowledge into how to help each baby.
It’s not just for preemies
Many people imagine NICUs to be full of very tiny babies born prematurely – and sometimes they are! But that’s not all we do. In addition to our “preemies”, NICUs care for babies who need surgery, full-term babies who had a difficult delivery or problems after birth, babies with health problems or conditions that they were born with and so much more. Sometimes babies only need to stay with us for a couple of hours or days before going back to be with their parents. Basically, NICUs are there for any newborn who needs extra care.
The babies aren’t our only patients
While everyone on the healthcare team is trained in how to care for our babies, we all know that those little ones also have “big ones” who help care for them, too – their families. In the NICU, our families are also like our patients as well. Families come in many shapes and sizes, and just like with the babies, every family is unique in what they need to help them through the NICU stay and beyond. Whether a NICU stay is three days or three months (or more!), it is almost always a huge disruption to family life and often causes a lot of stress and grief. We are there to help them on their journey toward healing, and to feel empowered to care and advocate for their babies well beyond their NICU stay.
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