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Parenting your baby in the hospital.

Parenting Your Baby in the Hospital

Only parents of neonates can understand how horrifying, scary and stress-producing your child's hospitalization can be. My son Alex was a neonate for nine and a half months at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. At the time, I searched for any information I could find on a parent's role in a neonatal unit. I found none. I am offering this article as a starting point for neo parents. There are specific things parents can do in order to establish a relationship with their child, even in the intensive care unit.

Alex is my eighth child, so I had plenty of parenting experience. I had to adapt what I knew, however, because my child did not live with me. My goals were simple. I wanted to know and love my child and I did not want to let his physical condition interfere with our relationship. We were successful. Alex knew and responded to my husband and me, and he was as content and comfortable as his environment would allow him to be.

FEARS

The first mountain you must climb is getting over your fear of the hospital. A neonatal unit is a scary place. All those little babies with tubes and wires and monitors attached to them are unnatural. You seldom hear crying in "neo" (except for parents). It takes a while for the physical illness you feel when you enter the room to go away, but it does. As days go by you will begin not to notice the apparatus covering your child. The alarms will not unnerve you as much. A point of interest: the majority of the time the alarms reflect mechanical interference, not a problem with your child. Soon you will be able to center on your child, and the rest of the room will be in the background.

ATTACHMENT

The easiest way to attach yourself to the baby is to do just that. Always touch the baby when you are there. At the beginning Alex could not move because of medication. But I held his hand or rubbed his head or stroked him the entire time I was there, even if he didn't seem alert. Babies can hear, and I am sure the familiar sounds of our voices made him know us.

It wasn't until Alex was ten days old that I held him in my arms for the first time and I really do not know who felt better, he or I. Holding Alex in my arms was the thing that gave me hope. It was also the most normal thing I could do for him. Sometimes it was quite a procedure to get him out of the isolette (incubator) -- stopping the alarms, getting him wrapped, finding the rocking chair. It was time consuming, but each time I did all that it was worth it. By the end of my stay in neo I could get him out myself because I had conquered my fear of machinery and tubes.

It makes sense that being held is therapeutic for any baby, ill or not. If the only physical contact babies receive is suction, blood tests, sticks, temperature takings, or chest P.T., if they cry and they are never soothed, they are not going to be happy. If you spend your time parenting your baby, he or she will begin to know that the world is not such an awful place. If the cuddling and tender loving care happen with you, they will want to know you and they will trust you.

HOW MUCH TIME WITH YOUR BABY?

How much time should you spend at the baby's bedside? At first the answer is how long you can stand to be there. In the beginning, 20 minutes at a time was about all I could take. The most positive aspect of the hospitalization was that Loyola was ten minutes away from my home. My husband and I went every night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The eight o'clock medications and treatments would be over. It is not always a good idea to spend your time watching the nurse work on your baby. I went in the morning by myself, basically to see the doctors and touch base with Alex before starting my day, but the evening visit was for us to be mommy and daddy to Alex.

As weeks went by, Alex began to respond to us by being awake and staying awake for our visits. If you live two hours away from the hospital it would be impossible to go every day. But every other day may be possible. Be consistent about visiting, set aside time, and stick to it. Popping in and out did not seem to give Alex a way to depend on us. If you have other children, call your church, ask your neighbors, call your distant cousins, beg for baby sitters, but do anything you can do to make sure you get there. If worse comes to worst, you and your spouse can trade nights.

PHYSICAL THERAPY

Every neonatal unit has a physical therapist that is assigned to the unit. Parents and doctors usually do not recommend physical therapy for very ill children. When Alex was two months old his prognosis was not hopeful. Basically, it appeared to be just a matter of time before he died. The thought occurred to me that if Alex did not die, he would not be ready for the world. So I asked for the physical therapist to come and see Alex and me. She came in, made a few suggestions, and we began.

We had to modify everything he did because he was on a ventilator. Slowly, and I must emphasize slowly, Alex picked up skills. As time went by, and when Alex responded physically, we did more and more. For example, it took many weeks before Alex could hold his head up, but he did do it. At first he did not look at the physical therapist. He would do the routine but avoided eye contact with her. It was two months before he would look at her face.

By the end of the hospitalization he was rewarding her with his precious smiles. My advice is to ask for physical therapy as soon as your child's health condition stabilizes. Do what the physical therapist suggests and make that a part of your visiting time. The fact that the physical therapist will be spending some time every day with your child in a positive, pleasantly stimulating way is in itself a plus.

TRUSTING STRANGERS

One of my chief hurdles during Alex's first months was learning to trust strangers to take care of him. I had a very hard time believing that strangers would care for and love my child as much as I could. I was wrong. Neonatology is a new field, and the neonatal intensive care unit has an extremely intense atmosphere. The nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors are amazing people. Their jobs are full of stress and depressing sights. Yet they are open and ready to care.

After a few weeks I realized that all of the staff members cared. Even if they do not work with a particular baby, they care about the child. I know how hard it is as a parent to have emotional ups and downs with these babies. The staff has the experience to know that this happens and that things will change. They gave me hope.

Our unit had primary nursing, which means that a particular nurse was consistently assigned to the same babies. Alex had two wonderful primary nurses and seven associate nurses. These nurses were an ongoing part of his team.

Over time, we became very comfortable in neo. My husband and I had some good times there. We met many people, we enjoyed our time with the baby, and all of the strangers became friends. It was easy for us to like them and feel comfortable, because they were willing to help our baby get better. Patients come and go, but the staff basically remains the same because these marvelous people care.

IT'S NOT EASY

None of the things I have suggested are easy. It is very difficult to visit a neo unit daily. It is depressing to have a child who is very ill, but if your child is ill she or he needs parents more than ever. As adults, many of us do not like to deal with illness; imagine what a sick baby goes through. That baby needs to have parents that love and care for him or her. Many babies had only infrequent visitors; sadly, some had none.

Every effort should be made by both parents and hospital to ensure that babies who must be hospitalized receive parental attention. The more time you spend with the baby the more you will understand his or her physical problems. During this time you can learn, slowly, to accept and deal with them.

Love is powerful medicine; showing your love and feeling your love will give your baby a sense of peace. This is not a guarantee that your baby will live, but it will guarantee that as parents you did all that you could while you had the chance. I can tell you this: the babies that had good parenting did not cry as much and were more receptive to people. They were as comfortable as they could be.

So please remember: have as much physical contact as possible with your baby, visit consistently, encourage new possibilities such as physical therapy, and trust in the staff. These suggestions are what parents can do as parents. It is a hard road, but I have done it and it was worth it.

Alex is a warm, responsive, happy person today, because we were not afraid to let him know how much we love him. Please do not be afraid!
COPYRIGHT 1989 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kolovitz, Mary H.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:1655
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