The NICU Diaries – Part Two – The First Days in NICU
Discover one twin mum’s story through the early arrival of her beautiful twin girls and their stay in NICU.
Jule shares her journey in a three part series, taking you from first finding out her babies need the extra care provided by the neonatal unit, navigating those first few days when everything was so new and her tips on how to cope when you are discharged from the hospital but your babies aren’t.
The first days in NICU with our identical twin girls born at 34 weeks went by in a bit of a blur. Each morning a nurse was assigned to look after our babies for the next 12 hours. The nurses were amazing and would always take time to explain what was going to happen with our daughters.
Premature babies who don’t have any other health issues have three goals they need to reach before they can leave NICU. They have to be able to hold their temperature, be able to feed themselves and reach a certain weight.
Our girls had to “eat” every three hours and had “cares” every six. For their feeds the nurse filled a small syringe with formula or expressed breast milk (or a mixture of both) and dripped the liquid into them through the nasal feeding tubes.
The nurses showed us how to do the cares so we could do them ourselves whenever we were there. I was so glad that the nurses were around as I had never changed a nappy before, and handling a baby, especially a tiny one, was pretty scary.
We carefully undressed their little bodies trying not to get all the cables that measured their heart and lung functions muddled up. Each baby had a monitor over their little cot that told us their heart rate, their respiratory rate, and the oxygen saturation within the blood. If something was wrong they’d beep and flash and the nurses would come running. Most of the time it was just that the electrodes attached to the baby had come loose, but at the beginning it was still distressing.
We then washed their faces, took their temperatures and changed their nappies.At first we felt so clumsy with our big hands, but soon became a bit more confident in helping to look after our daughters.
After we’d done the cares it was time for my favourite part of the day. Cuddles! Their dad and I took our tops off, put on hospital gowns and the nurse put one girl on each of our breasts. Kangaroo care isn’t just lovely for us it but also stimulates the baby’s senses, helps them to maintain their temperature and improves their breathing and heartrate.
Our babies snuggled onto us, tiredly glanced up every so often and fell asleep with their tiny fingers curled around one of ours. They were so incredibly cute and fragile and their dad and I both got a bit teary.
All too soon the nurse would tell us it was time to put the girls back into their cots. More than anything else our two needed rest as every movement was exhausting for them. They were still meant to be floating around in my belly for a few more weeks after all. It can be really hard to accept that you can’t hold your babies all the time, but we trusted that the nurses knew what’s best for them.
Then it was time for me to pump again. NICU has a room, jokingly called the milking shed, where mothers express every three to four hours. There’s a TV and magazines to read and slowly I started to produce more than a couple of drops.
One time when I came back from a nap both babies were lying under blue lamps – they had developed jaundice. The nurses assured us that it was very common (up to 80 per cent of premature babies develop it) and after a couple of days in their blue sunbeds they would be all rosy again.
The first days in NICU were overwhelming, exhausting, confusing, terrifying and exhilarating.
Our babies were so small, but perfectly formed. I could’ve watched them sleep under their blue light for hours but I had to remind myself that I was a mum now, which also meant I had to look after myself. So I dragged myself back to my room and had a nap before it was time for the next round of cares.
Next time, the nurses said I could give breastfeeding a go. We’d brought our big twin breastfeeding pillow along, and I sat behind a shield (to protect my modesty) in the room that our babies shared with three or four other wee ones. At first it was a bit odd to sit there with my breasts out in the bright sunlight with all the machines beeping and people coming and going. But I had my babies to focus on and soon nothing else registered.
I will never forget the moment they both (sort of) latched on for the first time. I looked down at the two heads, each the size of a grapefruit and felt so incredibly lucky, proud and happy.
After a whole two minutes my girls were exhausted and fell asleep. They still needed a milk top up so we fed them through their nasal tubes. I still saw my first attempt at breastfeeding as a success. It often takes premmies a while until they’re strong enough to nurse, but we were off to a good start.
Three days after giving birth my obstetrician gave me the all clear to go home. It was a very strange feeling to leave, not pregnant anymore but with no babies. The house was very quiet and I was still trying to fully comprehend that I was a mum now.
Follow Jule’s journey in Part Three of this NICU series – When your babies are in NICU and you’re not.