Your Top 9 Questions About NICU Answered
Having your twins in NICU can be very frightening and confusing. There are so many questions new parents might have. Neonatal Nurse Specialist Darcy Stott who works at Wellington Hospital in New Zealand is often one of the first NICU staff members that mums and dads meet when they learn that a premature delivery is about to happen. Although he tries to address all concerns at that time, the distressed parents often aren’t able to retain much of this information. We sat down with him to answer some of the most important questions that parents often ask.
My babies are in NICU. Are they sick?
Some babies have health issues but the majority of twins spend time in NICU because they are born prematurely.
They may have trouble breathing, maintaining their temperature and and depending on gestation aren’t able to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing so they have to learn how to feed.
We have to provide a warm environment, look after respiratory issues and make sure they get the nutrition they need.
Will my babies stay together?
Usually they will be together in one room but in separate incubators, or cots when they are more stable.
Some NICUs allow twins who are stable to share a cot but most don’t. They might have respiratory problems, or have IVs for fluids and it would be too risky.
We’re addressing the individual needs of each baby so we can’t have two babies in one bed. Later on, if one baby has different health issues then one might be discharged and the other one stays in NICU.
How long will my babies have to stay in NICU?
This is one of the most asked questions but at the same time one we can’t answer. As a general rule we say it will be roundabout the due date plus/minus three weeks on either side. They have to be developmentally ready to hold their temperature, keep their sugars up, breathe without assistance, feed off Mum and grow steadily.
Not every baby develops at the same speed. It can be likened to learning to walk. Some babies make their first steps at seven months, others at 18. So some babies will be able to leave the hospital before their due date, others after.
Why do the monitors above the cots seem to go off all the time?
The monitors above the incubators and cots usually show the heart rate, the blood pressure, the respiratory rate, and the oxygen saturation in the blood. Read more about the monitors.
The different noises they make tell us a story. There are soft noises that just inform us about something but we don’t need to take any action. However, sometimes they make very loud sounds which tell us the baby might need a bit more assistance. The parameters of what is normal and what isn’t are very small so they seem to peep very often.
The monitors are so high up that the hospital staff can still see them even if family members are sitting around the baby. Parents should try to concentrate on their little ones and learn to trust us. If there’s anything wrong we will tell you.
Can I hold my babies?
It depends how stable the babies are. In general, it is possible from 28 weeks. Both parents are encouraged to do so-called Kangaroo care. In the NICU environment it’s a way of holding babies skin to skin. The baby is undressed down to their nappy and placed on a parent’s bare chest and a blanket is placed over the baby to keep it warm.
Parents often think they can’t do a lot for their babies, but this is one way for them to connect. The clinical staff can do so many things, but this is something where the parents are needed. Studies show that babies who receive Kangaroo care are more stable, feed better and it helps mum’s milk supply and her mood too.
What else can I do to bond?
Parents are asked to help with the cares. Depending on how stable the babies are, parents will change them, take their temperature and help with feeding through nasal tubes. We tell the parents “we want you to be involved”. We want them to be there when the doctors do their rounds and ask questions.
How much time can I spend in NICU with my babies?
Parents are free to be with their babies as often as they can. The NICU is open to parents 24 hours a day. But if the babies are very premature or unwell, constantly sitting with them is not always beneficial for the parents. We don’t make any restrictions; parents have to decide what their physical and mental health allows them to do.
Sometimes it takes a while to find a routine, how to structure your days with a child in NICU. It is important to keep in mind that you have to keep your strength up for when you take your babies home.
Can I have visitors?
We remind people that NICU is not an open ward but an intensive care unit. We allow two people per bed during the visiting hours in the afternoon. They shouldn’t come when they have a cold or are otherwise sick.
NICU is also not a place to have children running around. There are just too many buttons they could press and wires they could pull. It is important for siblings to meet their new brothers or sisters and to see where Mum and Dad are spending so much time, but it will have to be a short supervised visit.
What can family and friends do to help?
Drop Mum & Dad off at the hospital and pick them up, clean at home, look after the other kids and turn up with dinner. Lend an ear and just listen.
Special thanks goes to Darcy Stott from the Neo Natal Department at Wellington Hospital, New Zealand for taking the time to answer our questions.