Premature Infant Development: Neonatal Unit Challenges And Tips

Having an infant in neonatal intensive care unit presents special challenges and is frightening. What it is like and some tips to get through it.

In Grand Rapids Michigan at the Spectrum hospital they have one of the best neonatal Intensive Care units in the West Michigan area. (It used to be called Butterworth Hospital)

Children who are born premature or have life threatening complications are often flown there by ambulance from all over Western Michigan to save their lives. Very often twins who are very small will also be there.

Some children that are brought there are too small to be able to breathe by themselves. Many times they are put on respirators on arrival. Usually they have to be hooked to heart monitors to make sure their heart is beating and that they are breathing. Most of them have I-Vs to provide them with nourishment and catheters to be able to draw blood.

Some children have to have surgery hours after they are born. Sometimes their hearts are not working or their abdominal wall needs repair. Some like my own son are born with their intestines or other body parts still in the umbilical cord.

When the infants are big enough the doctors take them off of their I-V's. Many of the infants then need to have their parents feed them by gavage, by putting a tube down their throat. I think that would be very hard to do but the parents who I saw got used to it.

There are a few things that are very hard about leaving a child in a neonatal unit. NICU's can be a frightening place. And there can be a lot of disapointments along the way. No matter what it can be a stressful time.

Seeing all the I-V tubes and the catherter sticking out everywhere can be very frightening. For the newborns who were very early or who need major surgery, the worry about whether they will survive at all is constant.

For some parents it is also hard because they expected to have the child right in their room with them. Many of them, if not all actually have to leave the newborn in the hospital when they are released. This can be very disapppointing.

Also if a parent had more than one child they often feel pulled in a lot of directions because they need to be with the kids they have at home and also feel that they need to be with the infant in the neonatal unit. That can be very frustrating.

At the Spectrum Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

they do a lot of things to give help to the family as they deal with their sick newborns. They have support groups, support materials and a social worker to help you as things progress.

They also distribute a wonderful little baby book which cites each step of progress. They also are very open to your showing up any time, day or night and to answer as many questions as they can.

Shortly after your child's surgery, you have the opportunity to sign up and have someone whose child had been there previously to ask questions of. The girl who was assigned to our family had had a child with the same surgery and had no developmental delays as a result of his defect.

Another helpful thing they did was give us a little baby book that was different than the typical ones. This book had a lot of definitions of what the neonatologists might be saying so you could understand better what was going on. It also is wonderful because it had a places to record when they first were able to breathe by themselves. Also when they first drank out of a bottle. { Many are so little when they are born that they do not have the sucking urge so they have to have the moms learn to feed by a tube called a gavage.) So for these families the baby being able to take from a bottle is a major step.

The book also had great suggestions of things to do to help the bonding process. They suggest bringing pictures of the family and taping it onto their isolettes. Also you are allowed to tape record the family talking or singing to baby and bring the tape. The book did say that but I never heard any tapes playing

They also had a social worker available who would help you work through the stress of the situation.

She was also very knowledgable about services that were available. She helped us get signed up for Michigan Special Care, which paid for anything not covered by insurance related to the birth defects that our son was born with. She also helped some of the families who had to permanently say goodbye to their newborns who did not make it.

The main thing that gets most parents through the fear and dissapointments is knowing that their newborns are getting the best of care in Western Michigan.

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