Having a baby in the NICU is scary and the days can seem endless. But thankfully for many babies, there’s a happy ending, and after days, weeks, or months it’s time to go home! As a preemie parent, time to go home is both exciting and terrifying!
Here are some of the changes/things you may experience:
You’re the boss – After spending your days in the NICU with medical experts everywhere, it’s now your job to raise your human alone and make all the decisions! Thankfully, the people in the NICU are pretty awesome, so you’ll probably have a bunch of new friends who can help calm your fears and give you the confidence that you’re doing perfect outside of the nursery walls.
- Missing the digital monitor screens – If you were a “monitor watcher” like I was, this one is tough! I was known for watching my daughter’s stats on the monitor, and for worrying about them more than I should have! The doctors and nurses had to constantly remind me to focus on the baby, not the numbers. At home, there’s no option but to focus on the baby because the numbers are gone!!! My daughter had a monitor, but the at-home monitor is a small box with lights, no numbers. It took a while to get over the fear of not knowing the exact stats. Even after the at-home medical monitor was gone, I purchased the Owlet to monitor her while she slept. It’s tough to break the desire to know the numbers once you get used to knowing them!
- Baby weight checks may scare you – For “regular” babies, weight checks are routine parts of a checkup. For preemies, weight checks become a much bigger deal. If a baby doesn’t gain enough, or if they lose weight, they can go back to the hospital, and that is terrifying! Luckily, that’s pretty rare. Hospitals don’t just let the babies go home before they’re ready. Those babies are ready to grab life by the horns (they’re already pretty experienced at it, actually. Being a preemie and fighting out of the NICU isn’t an easy job!) Still, it probably won’t freak you out any less when you’re waiting for the numbers to pop up on the scale!
- Hand washing and cleaning your phone and remote will become your new religion. I really need to buy stock in Clorox because our family goes through Clean-Up wipes like you wouldn’t believe! Everyone who walks into my house knows they need to hand over their phone for processing (i.e. Clorox wipes de-germification) and wash their hands. It becomes a way of life, don’t try to fight it.
- You’ll look at anyone who sniffles as a carrier for the bubonic plague – For real, while you’re out or whenever anyone enters your range of vision, you will develop the senses of a bomb sniffing dog. You will have the ability to hear a sniffle, sneeze or cough within a 50-foot radius! You’ll probably also find yourself getting really angry that the person is in public, where they can infect others! The reality is that if people don’t have experience with someone who has a compromised immune system, they have NO idea the damage it can do. Some people may continue to doubt the seriousness of germs to a preemie (or other immunocompromised babies/people), and it’ll probably annoy the heck out of you that they don’t get it. Just avoid those people. It doesn’t matter who they are, if they can’t get on board, they probably need to stay at a distance for a while. Germs are no joke. My daughter is 15 months old now, and I still get annoyed when people are sick and go out in public or work in close spaces with people. It’s reckless.
- You’ll need to learn the conversion system – In the hospital, they use the metric system, so you’ll be used to hearing about CC’s and grams, but then in “regular life” everything uses the US standard measurement system. Even at the pediatrician’s office, they typically talk to you using the US standard because that’s what they know most parents are used to hearing. For the first 6-8 months my daughter was home, I left a conversion page open on my (constantly sanitized) phone all the time.
- People will ask which birthday you’ll celebrate – I totally understand that preemies are a whole new world for people, but this question always surprises me. My daughter’s birthday is the day of her birth, and that’s the day we’ll celebrate as her birthday. For the purposes of development, chronological age (when she was born) and adjusted age (her age based on when she was supposed to be born) are definitely relevant, but for birthdays, there’s only one date that matters – the date that little girl made her debut!
- People will ask how old your baby is, then ask about his/her size – If someone asks how old your baby is, prepare yourself for some strange looks, and the likely follow-up question of “Is he/she small for her age?” They don’t mean anything negative, you can see they’re just confused that the age and the size aren’t matching up as expected. You may want to either get in the habit of saying “He/She’s ___ months, but was born early, so he/she’s the size of a ___ month old.” Or just tell the person the baby’s adjusted age (due date) and save yourself both the explanation and follow up questions.
Navigating life outside of the NICU is definitely an adjustment, but it’s an exciting change to tackle!