Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom

We were very blessed to have a brief 14 day NICU stay when the boys were born at 34 weeks. With the exception of a few breathing issues and the suck/swallow learning curve, our visit was relatively peaceful and just grow time. That didn’t make it any less painful or difficult on us to go home without our babies every day or to travel back and forth to the hospital 3 times daily for visits while I was recovering from a c-section. It was one of the most difficult two weeks of my life and I know so many people now who had much longer stays with many more obstacles to overcome. We’re all part of a special club and while this list is certainly not the end-all, be-all and there are countless more (feel free to add yours in the comments section!), here are a few simple tips to help cope with the reality of life in the NICU as a preemie mom:

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Twins

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes life moves at rapid pace in the NICU and the room is spinning, and sometimes it feels like it is crawling and you’re counting down the days until discharge or even passing a major milestone that means one step closer to health. In those moments when decisions are made quickly and actions are taken (especially while you may have been away), do not be afraid to ask any and every question. In those endless moments that drag and you’re contemplating life long term while you stare at the monitors and the clock, ask any and every question. ASK. A good NICU nurse anticipates this desperate need for control and intimate understanding of every detail of your little one’s life and should welcome and encourage you to use your voice. The very best nurses will answer your questions before you even ask.

2. It’s ok to be scared. There are going to be so many highs and lows during your stay. The NICU is a virtual non-stop emotional roller coaster. I made the mistake of trying to act like I had it all together, played super strong for my boys and never shed a tear over the experience. That was far too much of a burden to share alone. It’s ok, vital even, to experience the emotions, to seek comfort from loved ones, even from the staff. It’s ok to be honest that this is the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced and you’re scared you’re not up for the task. Don’t be afraid to befriend the families you see coming and going each day, who have little ones beside yours in the NICU. You need all the support you can get, especially from people “in the know.”

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Baby

3. Accept that you did nothing wrong. It’s hard as a mother to not feel guilty and that we somehow are responsible for why are child(ren) are in the NICU. You want to ask yourself every question, wonder where you went wrong, what you could have done better. This guilt is not only unfair, it’s unhealthy. I struggled with wondering if I had been too active, if my anxiety had contributed to an early delivery. Did I do too much? Did I miss the cues and not listen to my body? Very quickly, I was reminded by the NICU nurses that I was the very best mom for my children and that micro-managing the past was pointless and invalid. Life happens.

4. Remember that your partner is hurting too. We spend so much time carrying our children inside of us, it’s very easy to forget that this experience is equally scary and painful for our children’s father. As mothers, we have this intimate connection that sometimes makes our world almost egocentric. I made a very big mistake by isolating my husband on his own island to cope with the challenge of babies in the NICU while I “braved MY journey” alone. It was heartbreaking for him to see his children there, just like it was for me. Cling to each other, support each other, love each other. Acknowledge that you are both hurting and share the burden together. This is happening to the both of you.

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Baby Yawning

5. Take advantage of the time available to properly rest up and heal. While far from any parent’s ideal situation, the reality is that you have a rare opportunity when your child(ren) are in the NICU to get a full night’s sleep. As hard as it feels to be home or elsewhere without them, you can get yourself back to your best self faster if you make the best of a bad situation and work in between visits to properly care for yourself and heal. Chances are when they do come home, you’re going to need that extra energy and then some. Take the rest while you can get it.

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - Helpful Tips



  1. says

    #2 and #3 speak so much to me. My son was 7 weeks premature. I had my daughter at home who was 21 months old at the time. I was trying so hard to be strong, keep it all together. I did not ask for help, I did not let on I was not coping. I wanted to be supermom because in my head I thought that was the only way to be. But being present and allowing emotions would have made me no less strong. And #3 was rough, I was in the hospital for two weeks prior to my water finally breaking. I was on major drugs to stop contractions and I felt my body had failed me. It was my one job to bring a healthy, full term baby here and I felt I failed at it, to his detriment. But he is a healthy, active, bright and sweet 4 year old now who adores hearing the story on how he was so excited to meet us he could not wait. He came into the world the same way he is now, on his terms, stubborn, adoring the attention, and so, so strong. I only hope parents going through this are able to cope, perhaps find this and take it to heart while they are going through their rough times.

  2. says

    I would add two things: don’t be scared of all the wires, buzzers and stuff. It looks intimidating, but you can still get a lot of skin and cuddle time even with all the gadgets. And, utilize the NICU nurses. They are amazing and such a source of support! Great article. My stay was a decade ago, but I remember so much of it!

  3. Wendy says

    I am currently going to see my micro preemie everyday. She was born at 23 weeks, and has come a long way. She is now 37 weeks, and I feel more desperate the closer I come to her coming home.


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