Bringing baby home for the first time is stressful, no matter what. Bringing baby home decorated by monitors and tubes makes it that much more stressful, but there are ways to make it easier. Here are some tips for coping when you bring your NICU baby home.
You can enlist help for the first few weeks, get help from a company that does home care or you can try to do it on your own. If you try doing it alone for the first few weeks, you may get even less sleep than new parents normally get due to heart monitors being frequently kicked off and going off every time baby kicks.
If you're doing it without outside help, enlist your partner so you can wake up in shifts and consider putting the crib in your room so you know you'll hear if the monitor goes off without worrying that you'll miss hearing it through the baby monitor.
If your baby comes home on oxygen, make sure the tank is located where you can maneuver the cord to take the baby into different rooms with ease. Keep the cord gently taped to baby's face and make sure all emergency tanks are full and the monitor is working.
Depending on your situation, your baby may be signed up for SSI in the NICU. If you are, you won't have to worry as much if the baby is too sickly to go to daycare. Preemies have lower immune systems than full-termers, so one cold can be enough to put them on life support again. If you have to have 2 incomes and you're able to get SSI, get it and stay home – no job is worth potentially losing a child and within a year or two, the baby's immune system will likely be high enough to withstand a cold or other bugs without ending up back in the hospital.
If your baby is on a feeding tube, work as easily as you can to get them off the tube. The tube likely has been surgically inserted into their stomach and you will want to keep it clean and taped gently down. The hospital staff likely will have given you a supply of tape to use for both the oxygen cannula and the tube. Tape it down, tuck it under the diaper and only put easy to access/fasten clothing on over the tube. Make sure it's not where curious hands can grab once they're older and always be mindful of the tube. If it gets pulled and you can't replace it, you'll have to make a trip to the hospital for placement and it won't be comfortable for the baby.
Giving the baby a pacifier helps work the weakened muscles that are required for eating and drinking. After the baby has drunk all that it can, slowly start tubing the rest of the food. Some nurses will advise against trying to breastfeed to avoid confusion while the baby is learning how to drink from a bottle and to ensure the proper muscles develop. Some will give the green light, it all depends on how you want to feed the baby but there is nothing wrong with pumping and giving pumped milk in a bottle if needed.
Of course, consult your doctor before trying anything new with your NICU baby. They will have the best advice for all situations to protect your child.