Preemies and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
I'm a veteran NICU mom, and both of my children are Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) graduates. What does this mean, and how do doulas fit in to the picture? Well first let me introduce you to my daughet, born at 36 weeks, 4 lb 15 oz. She spent about 10 days in the NICU because I developed a blood infection, and she developed a blood infection in utero. She needed a few blood transfusions and constant antibiotics. She did make a full recovery and is now a lovely 8 year old princess.
I was a first time mom. I was an impatient and uninformed first time mom. Looking back I would have loved to have a doula to provide me information on how to relax, stay patient, and well rested during the last few months of pregnancy. If I had a doula to support me during labor I might have given birth quicker. A doula could have showed me different techniques to help dilate quicker and how to help my baby drop into position faster as well. My membranes had ruptured at 5 a.m. which put me at higher risk for infection. A doula could have informed me that reducing the number of cervical checks could help reduce the risk of infections after my membranes had ruptured. Mothers who have a doula have a 14% reduced rate of having infants in the NICU (evidencedbasedbirth.com). All the options that I could have explored if I only had been introduced to what a doula can do!
Now meet my son. He's a bit of a miracle. He was born at 28 weeks, 2 lb 9 oz, and 14 inches long. My miracle boy spent exactly 2 months in the NICU here in Mesa, Az and is now an amazing 5 year old kindergartener. I had developed pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I was at higher risk due to unnecessary stress. I feel if I had the assistance of a doula, she could have helped to put my pregnancy into better prospective. A doula could have made suggestions for relaxation. Having that continuous emotional and physical support through pregnancy really can lift an expecting mother's spirits. I was hospitalized for three days while doctors tried combat the pre-eclapsia. A doula's presence would have been so welcomed to help process all the procedures I was about to undergo. I had steroid shots, terbutaline shots, magnesium, blood draws, and the whole works. A doula could have helped me prepare for the upcoming battle my sweet little boy and I were about to enter.
A doula's support while your precious, new baby is in the NICU is invaluable. A doula is still there to support you and your partner. One major incentive is that your partner is free to accompany your baby to the NICU, while the doula stays to keep mom comfortable. A few useful suggestioins that I would make as a doula with experience in the NICU include:
Provide mom with a burp wrag to wear under her clothes. Once that rag has soaked up all of moms smell, cover the baby with it so baby can smell mom and help create that wonderful bond.
If baby is too small or ill to breastfeed mom can still get that connection of nourishing her baby. Mom can hold the dropper or tube that feeds the baby at each feeding session.
Skin-to-skin time. If baby is well enough, undress the baby and place on mom's bare chest. This can help regulate baby's temperate, help stabilize baby's heart rate, and help foster that bond between mom and new baby. Skin-to-skin has also been found to reduce anxiety in mom. (evidencebasedbirth.com)
If baby is too small or ill to do skin-to-skin time mom can place her hands over baby in the isolette. Baby can still smell mom and feel her warmth and touch.
Make recordings of your voice. If there's ever a time you can't visit the NICU, the kind nurses may be able to play your recording for baby so he or she can hear your voice.
Nearly 450,000 babies are born prematurely just in the US. Imagine the positive impact a doula can have on new parents by providing loving care and assistance. I know if I could wave a magic wand and go back in time, I would have utilized a doula. I wish no babies needed to spend time away from mom and dad in the NICU. Since the unexpected does happen I do feel very honored to be able to help parents start to navigate the journey through the NICU.
Congratulations to all fellow NICU graduates, and blessings to all those just starting their journey.