Your birth plan suddenly dissolved when frightening events took over your labor or delivery, and now your baby has disappeared into the NICU. Is anything harder than feeling powerless before the NICU’S machines, smells, noises, and busy-ness? Try our 21 soothing tips to make waiting in the NICU easier.
While you’re thinking about your birth plan hardly seems the right time to imagine threatening events. But it’s a good time to ask what you would do, should your birth not go according to plan.
As you write your birth plan and your hospital bag checklist, include things on that checklist that can help during the intensity of labor and could also help manage the stress of waiting in the NICU.
If your baby needs NICU to survive—at the same time that you’re in the throes of birth hormones, worry, and labor exhaustion—take a moment to say thank you, even silently.
Modern medical technology has taken your baby out of your arms so she can come back to them ASAP, healthier than she left.
Waiting in the NICU is a challenge that needs time. While you’re a NICU parent, choose the soothing methods that keep you and baby calm.
7 Soothing Essential Oils
Pure essential oils are made from the plant’s leaves, roots, bark, or flowers. They are used in their pure form, without blending them with chemicals or artificial fragrances.
Pack these essential oils (not synthetic imitations) in your hospital bag to help you manage stress. Some will probably appeal to you more than others:
- Lavender Oil – calms the nervous system and helps reduce irritability, panic, nervous stomach, and sleep disturbance.
- Rose Oil – uplifts and soothes an emotional heart, helping you to gather your strength, get your rest, and adjust your perspective.
- Vetiver – helps ground your emotions so you can think better and more calmly. It’s so effective it’s often used in trauma centers.
- Ylang Ylang – is both calming and uplifting. It helps you shift your perspective from fearful to cheerful, which then helps you plan, sleep, or eat better in order to keep up your strength and promote healing from birth.
- Bergamot – often used for depression because it gives you energy. Surprisingly, it also helps you relax and promotes sleep by reducing anxiety.
- Chamomile – increases a sense of peacefulness and calm that helps lower anxiety, overthinking, and stress.
- Frankincense – helps quiet your mind and increase a sense of calm. It’s known for helping you ground your emotions in your spiritual practice and helps deepen meditation.
7 Soothing Techniques For You
Soothing happens in all sorts of ways, as any person who has gone through labor knows.
Movement, touch, laughter, lotion, music, or poetry can help shift your focus from discomfort or worry to finding your inner Zen Woman.
These can release tension and uplift your spirit:
- Massage – use lotion or essential oils to massage yourself (arms, wrists, legs, feet, temples, belly, hips) or ask your a trusted person do it. No matter if you’re the giver or receiver of massage, working with oil or lotion containing some of the above essential oils helps you both calm down, relax, and shift away from anxiety or stress.
- Movement – during labor, movement helps relieve pain and promotes bringing baby down through the birth canal. Movement releases the pent-up energy from waiting in the NICU, too. Stretching, taking walks, or gentle exercises increase your circulation and promote a sense of empowerment that can shift your mind from worry to action and healing.
- Music – the power of music to relax or energize is well-known, and has been part of healing for centuries. During labor, the right music helps you go with the flow of contractions. The same effect can help you lower stress and anxiety if you’re waiting for news from the NICU.
- Food – though you may have had to limit your food intake during labor, postpartum eating is crucial to healing and keeping your energy up. Hunger provokes anxiety, but eating the right foods for you soothes stress, increases blood glucose levels to give you energy, and gives you something to do.
Food is also the ultimate community-bonding tool that can bring family or friends together for a moment of unity and peace. More than one family has celebrated a birthday or holiday in the hospital dining room—complete with cake and balloons or turkey with stuffing and gravy!
- Water – staying hydrated helps your body work its best during labor, heal after delivery, and helps you think better. The same is true when the doctor is telling you what to expect in NICU or what your baby needs—a well-hydrated brain will absorb the information better.
- Journal– writing is a way of both explaining yourself and listening to yourself. A journal (pen to paper, in your phone, or online) gives you carte blanche to express every joy, dream, confusion, or fear. Research shows that journaling boosts your immune system—a crucial benefit when you’re healing but need to be strong for your little baby, too.
- Talking or Prayer – everyone needs a listening ear from time to time, and waiting in the NICU is one of those. Whether the right listening ear is the nurse, doctor, chaplain, your doula, midwife, friend, family or partner, talking about the situation helps relieve stress and find solutions, or make plans. Maybe meditation is better for you—install one of the great meditation apps, put in your earbuds, close your eyes, and drift away.
7 Ways to Help Your NICU Baby
When you’re in the NICU looking at your precious baby alone in an incubator with wires and hoses attached to him, it’s easy to feel helpless yet fiercely protective.
You may not be able to snuggle or breastfeed him at first, but while he’s under expert medical care you can still:
- Talk, read, and sing – every word gives him the comfort of your voice, the one he knows most intimately.
- Wear soothing scents– you may have to get permission, but putting a drop each of rose and orange oils on your wrist is soothing and uplifting when you reach into baby’s incubator. If it’s too much stimulation to have the oils on your wrist, wear them on your neck where they won’t be so intense, or use a natural lotion on your skin that contains them.
- Pump your breastmilk – if you’re planning to breastfeed but your baby can’t do that yet, building a milk supply is something you can do for her. Depending on how long she stays in the NICU, once your milk really comes in you can label and store it in the NICU refrigerator or at home.
- Touch your baby – if he’s not so premature that his skin is too fragile to touch, placing your hand on his back or foot or finger reassures him that you’re there with him.
- Practice kangaroo care– once your baby is able, putting her skin-to-skin on your chest, inside your shirt, helps you both. Skin-to-skin boosts her immune system, increases her circulation, helps regulate her temperature, and lowers her stress so she cries less. Once she can come home, you’ll already be a kangaroo care expert!
- Do the diapering – ask the wonderful NICU nurses what you can do to take care of your baby—they’ll probably show you how to change and bathe him, once he’s stable. Learning how to maneuver around hoses and cords might take some practice, but you’ll get it. You may also be able to weigh him and take him temperature.
- Keep a positive attitude – this won’t be the last time you hide your feelings from your baby, but it’s a very good time to do it. The more you speak positively, the better. Saying out loud the love you have, the dreams you’re holding, the funny things that happened, or the beauty you see in your baby generates uplifting, life-affirming energy—for both of you.
Remember that taking care of you is as important as being with your baby.
Mothers often experience a mountain of emotions—disappointment, loneliness, insecurity, frustration, and insecurity—when their baby has to stay in the NICU, and it all happens while they’re dealing with postpartum healing, breastmilk coming in, and the questions of family and friends.
Rest, food, and diversion all help you get stronger as you heal.
The better you feel, the more you can give your baby until he’s home with you, snoring in his crib and waking you up at 2 AM.
Until then, make sure you saw some Z’s, too.
To learn more about NICU and parenting, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.
This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.
Published: May 7, 2018 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: May, 2018