September is NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)  Awareness Month. ​This special month is dedicated to acknowledging the challenges families face and providing them with the support and resources they need.

As a doula you will encounter times where families are navigating a baby in the NICU for various reasons. This is an overwhelming and difficult time for all of those involved. It is a traumatic separation of parents and baby. A time where navigating expectations of what parenting was supposed to be and what it is, is up against the fear of will my baby be ok. 

Often times as doulas we feel scared and unprepared in supporting families as they navigate their way through this journey. Here are a few ways you can show up for families in the NICU. 

Listen

Just as you might support someone going through any kind of trauma by listening as they speak, simply lending an open, non-judgmental ear can be of huge help to NICU parents. Focusing on listening ensures that you honor the experience they’re having, instead of clouding it with your insights, birth story, or advice.

Consider starting with, “Do you feel like talking?” before asking any questions about their status or that of the baby. They may really want to share with you how much weight the baby gained that day or how they’re doing on certain good days, or they may really want to vent on some terrible days. But they also may not want to talk.  Asking if they’re open to talking before diving into a conversation is a way to respect their boundaries.

Support them in establishing communication with their baby’s care team: 

NICU parents often feel insecure about how to provide care for their baby who is in such a fragile condition.  It is important for them to know they are just as needed in the NICU as the medical team. 

  • Remind them they are their baby’s best advocate
  • Help them formulate the questions they want to ask
  • Remind them they can provide care to their newborn, changing diapers, taking temperatures, etc. The nurses will support them. 
  • Encourage them to keep a daily journal of their babies progress. keeping track of  baby’s individual body systems, like breathing, digestion, heart, brain, eyes, and any special conditions the baby has.  Keep track of milestones and ask the nurse what the baby’s current goals are.  Sometimes the goals will change daily, and sometimes they will stay the same for weeks.

Offer Practical Support 

As a doula this is our wheelhouse. Just as we would in the home, offering clear and concise suggestions about the type of support you can offer will help overwhelmed parents get what they need. 

  • Work with their support system to arrange food delivery for in hospital support and those at home. Gift cards for restaurants in and around the hospital, premade easy to heat up meals and snacks or even e-transfers will be greatly appreciated. 
  • Offer to do a load of laundry and bring it to the hospital ( or arrange for a family member to do so) 
  • Offer to be a communication liaison between the family and their extended family and friends, or help them find their person
  • Remember that the birther is also dealing with recovery, help them with practical recovery strategies like pain management, pumping, etc. 

Remember that the fear does not end when baby comes home 

 There is a lot of excitement when baby comes home however this doesn’t mean that the fear and concerns have ended. Often parents have not fully processed the trauma of being in the NICU and coming home creates a space for all of that to surface. 

Find the parents counselling and peer support resources. Expect some hypervigilance when it comes to caring for baby. Patience and listening will continue to be important. 

What strategies and tools do you use to support families in the NICU? 

 

Sondra Marcon (she/her). Education and Administration Coordinator
Sondra’s background in family therapy and mental health work drives her to create environment for her clients and students that is both supportive and challenging of bias and assumptions. Teaching and development of curriculum drives her to continue to grow. Sondra’s drive to become a doula came when she saw the impact of early childhood experiences and parenting has on the wellness of both the infant and their parents.

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