Without a doubt, the NICU is a stressful place. But recently, I decided to help parents reclaim a little bit of joy with their NICU baby. Try out a few of these suggestions, and see if you can make your journey a little more fun.
1. Leave a disposable camera with your baby
and ask the staff to take pictures of your baby whenever you're not around - during evening baths, when a bottle feeding goes really well, when she has her eyes open or her tube out for the first time, etc. Develop them ASAP, for some surprise sneak-peeks into the times your baby was awesome.
2. Decorate your baby's space
Bring some joy to your baby's world, just as you would if you were taking your baby home, as much as you are allowed. Bring in family pictures, kids' drawings, sweet inspirational quotes. Buy beautiful NICU art to decorate the crib, isolette, or anywhere else near baby. Talk to your NICU staff about how and where you can display them. Also ask about other ideas you might have - do you have a pretty basket at your home nursery you were going to use for diapers & wipes? Maybe you can take it to the NICU to personalize your baby's space.
3. Create your own personal "NICU uniform" to wear when you visit.
Give yourself permission to wear bunny slippers, flannel pajamas, your most comfy sweats, your silliest favorite T-shirt. Whatever makes you happy. Wear it every time you visit, or save it for those days when you're dragging. Make sure it's something that cheers you up. High heels and tight skirts are NOT a good "NICU uniform," unless that's what makes you smile.
4. Take a picture of your baby, every day
and make a video like this one on youtube to show the incredible growth of your little one. (Maybe add a little music to the video? That would be even more enjoyable)
5. Take the staff a fun surprise treat.
Something unexpected, that will bring a smile to their faces. Smiles are contagious, and most parents say that they feel better when they have a good connection with the staff (Ideas: Big jug of licorice? Balloons for the nurses? Jumbo pack of gum? Donuts, cookies, chocolates, and a jug of starbucks coffee work, too)
6. Read a baby book to your baby every time you visit.
Particularly on those days when you can't hold. Turn that disappointment into storytime, a beautiful opportunity for baby to hear your voice and feel your love. Here are my all-time favorites.
7. Make a playlist of songs you might have played to your pregnant belly.
Ask the staff how you can safely play the songs for your little one, when you are there visiting or when you are away. An iPod and a set of speakers should do the trick. Go for soothing sounds & songs, naturally.
8. Make some music for yourself.
Every good movie has a great soundtrack - make your own "NICU soundtrack." Compile a playlist of songs you really love, ones that brighten your day, and then bring your iPod when you're visiting. Let your nurse know you need a break from all the alarms (they'll understand,) and then enjoy good tunes and positivity. Not only does it shut out all the irritating NICU noises, but it gives you something to look forward to when you're there.
9. Sing the same song every time you visit your baby's bedside.
Make it your own first tradition. Even if you have to whisper it, even if it's just through the porthole of the isolette. You will both learn to enjoy the ritual, that common thread throughout all of your NICU days. (My favorites: Eidelweiss, You are my sunshine, Somewhere over the rainbow)
10. Write a little note from your baby to the nurse taking care of her
Here's a simple surprise for the staff that will spread smiles for all - Tuck it in the crib drawer, or someplace safe by your baby, as you're leaving. It will make a fun surprise for your nurse. It is another way to feel a positive connection with your baby's caretakers. (For example: "Dear Rachel, Thank you for being my nurse. You're my favorite diaper-changer of all!" Or "Alex, you're awesome! I love the way you wrap me up like a snuggly burrito, it makes me feel happy." Be a little silly and have some fun with this one!)
11. Finally, join the support group if your NICU has one.
Go on, give it a try. There is NOTHING else like connecting with other people who can truly empathize, who are also living in the weird, scary universe of the NICU. If your NICU doesn't have one, ask if you can post a flyer to start a new one. Keep it simple - pick a date & time & a comfy space (coffee shop, library...). Then post a flyer where other NICU families can see it. You might enjoy a laugh about the staff, you might share tears over your worries, and you'll probably make lasting friendships.
There are so many more ways to have fun in the NICU - what are YOUR IDEAS?