Please be mindful that every trust, hospital, ward and team do things differently. This blog is based on my own experience as a paediatric nurse and my baby’s neonatal journey.
As a paediatric nurse my daily routine starts by walking onto a ward of poorly babies and children, with a smile on my face ready to start work. Never did I imagine I would be the one walking onto a ward crying for my poorly baby.
Nothing could have prepared me for being wheeled into the neonatal unit (NNU) to meet my baby girl seven hours after being delivered via emergency C-section under general anaesthetic.
How am I now the one sat at the side of an incubator day and night?
How am I now the one watching medication being pumped into my baby?
How am I now the one walking away crying while the doctors and nurses poke and prod my baby, subjecting her to cannulas, heel pricks and lumber punctures?
Ask Questions…. and ask some more
No one is expecting you to know and understand what bradycardia means, what a lumbar puncture is or how to aspirate an NG tube. But all of a sudden this is your daily conversation in the NNU, so if something is being spoken about that you don’t understand, ask!
During ward round is the perfect time to ask questions. While the Doctors are talking stop them at any time and ask: what do you mean by…..? What should the numbers be for….? What do the blood results mean…? The only stupid questions are those left unasked.
It’s often overwhelming during ward round with professionals surrounding you in a small space. They’ll ask that all important question: “do you have any questions?” I don’t now about you but my mind always went blank!
Keep a notepad close by day and night and write down your questions and thoughts as they pop into your mind. Most of my questions came to me when I was pumping at stupid o’ clock in the morning.
If you find it overwhelming to speak up in front of lots of people, ask the nurse looking after you that day to ask your questions for you - the nurse is there to care and advocate for you all, not just your baby!
In paediatric nursing we have a term called Family Centred Care - this means that as well as physically caring for your baby or child we also care for you, your partner, siblings and other family members that may be affected by your child’s hospital stay. So if you want someone to help explain to your other children why their baby sister or brother isn’t coming home just yet - yes your nurse can help with that. If you or your partner want someone to talk to - yes your nurse can help with that. If you need someone to tell your great aunt that you’re not up for visitors today - yes your nurse can help with that! Never be worried to ask your nurse for help; if they can’t do it they will find someone who can.
That is your baby - no one else’s
Watching others care for my baby was something I found really difficult. Seeing nurses pushing medication down her NG tube, setting up her TPN or even just moving her into a different position. Of course I had total faith in the nurses and doctors, but I couldn’t help but watch and analyse their every move. Almost immediately I asked if I could give the NG feeds. As this was something I already knew how to do a nurse watched me use the tube throughout the day and I was signed off by the end of that shift. My husband also got signed off so between us we did all the NG feeds from then onwards.
Its important for you and your partner to feel able to care for your baby when you’re ready, and not feel pushed aside. This is your baby and no one else’s. Learning to give NG feeds is one of the cares you can learn to do if you wish. I’m not going to lie - it is terrifying at first, but it’s a great way to grow the bond with your baby.
Speaking with your nurse at the start of their shift to get a plan for the day can help you feel more involved - know when cares are due, when a good time is to have a cuddle and even when to wash baby.
Every nurse likes to do things differently so day to day the routine may change, but speak up if you want to change timings to help fit around your day too!
You know your baby best
I don’t remember much of the first 12 hours after having my daughter – the anaesthetic will do that to you! I looked back at texts between my husband and I, and the first text I sent him post the birth was “what is she like?”. How crazy is that - I had no idea what my baby was like! Seven hours later I was wheeled through the NNU with all those tiny babies in incubators and I had no idea which one was mine!
People say that your motherly intuition manifests immediately once you have a baby but I’m not sure mine did – it took several days before it kicked in and I found I had an overwhelming need to protect her!
Whether you had an experience similar to mine, or if you got to be with your baby right from delivery, you know your baby best, even though it may not feel like it. You carried that baby, you felt every move, every hiccup and every kick to the bladder!
If you feel like something’s not right, then speak up and say! You will notice things that the nurses and doctors wont - they are extremely knowledgeable and good at their jobs, but they do not know your baby like you do. The ten minutes a day during ward round that they spend with your baby is nothing compared to how well you will get to know him or her – you are the expert when it comes to your baby.
Take care of yourself… yes you!
No one gets pregnant with the intention of spending time on the NNU but unfortunately that is sometimes the reality. You get pushed into an unknown journey with often very little warning or preparation, so it’s important you take care of yourself to give yourself the best chance at handling everything that gets thrown your way. That is easier said than done though sometimes - I remember walking over to the NNU from the post natal ward the day after my daughter was born at 5am. The nurse was so angry with me for walking over alone 24 hours post my C-section but I wasn’t waiting for someone to take me over to see my own baby!
It may feel unnatural, but if someone offers to help you out say yes! Make the most of people rallying around to make meals, help you out with child care, or just to be there when you need a cry down the phone. Just think what you would do for a friend in your position, and how special it would make you feel to know that you’ve made someone’s difficult day slightly brighter.
I don’t have any magical words or advice that will make this journey easy but all I can say is one day you will look back on your Neonatal Journey and at times be amazed at your strength and courage. You’ve got this!