The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) may seem like an intimidating, foreign destination for most moms and dads expecting a baby. However, the parents and families who have experienced a NICU stay also know it is a place full of support, compassion, hope and an entire medical team committed to helping the babies in their care get healthy and strong.

Parents and families that step into Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center’s Level III NICU quickly find this to be true. The NICU provides critical care to babies born too soon or for those facing complications after delivery.

“Parents don’t expect to be in the NICU,” says Candy Schoelen, RN in the NICU at Shady Grove Medical Center. “If you do find yourself on a NICU journey, please know that from the time your baby arrives in our care, you already have advocates on your side, and we are here to help you navigate your baby’s stay.”

While the NICU is an overwhelming and emotional roller coaster, complete with highs and lows, there are a few important things parents and families can do if they ever find themselves in the NICU with their little one:

Ask questions.

Being thrust into the NICU after delivery is disorienting. Nurses, doctors and care staff seem like they are speaking an entirely different language and are sharing complex information and details about your baby’s care. However, staff will always encourage you to ask questions – often and repeatedly, if you need to.

“Bring a journal to write questions ahead of time and to record answers and explanations from doctors, nurses and staff,” suggests Schoelen. “It will help you remember what is being said, and it will also help you understand the kind of care your baby is receiving.”

Get involved in your child’s care.

Holding your baby is one of the best things you can do for him or her. Research shows that kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact, helps babies breathe easier, regulate their temperatures and gain weight. When your nurse offers to help you hold your little one, accept his or her offer. It may seem intimidating, but your baby’s nurse is there to help you and your little one.

Be sure to help with any of your baby’s care, including feedings, diaper changes, bath, changing sheets and much more. It will help you get more comfortable and confident caring for your little one, and provides an important opportunity to bond with your baby.

Advocate for your baby.

As you navigate the NICU with your baby, remember you are an advocate for his or her care. Speak up when you have a question and voice your concerns. Parents play an important role in helping babies get healthy and strong. One great way to get involved is to attend rounds when possible. Doctors, nurses and staff meet every day at each baby’s bedside to discuss your baby’s care goals, challenges or milestones.

Try to schedule visits to coincide with rounds, listen closely and be unafraid to speak up if you have a question or concern. If you’re not able to be at the unit during rounds, ask your nurse what was discussed. Your nurse can also help you coordinate a conversation with the attending physician overseeing your baby’s care if you have additional questions.

Having a baby is an exciting, thrilling time. Most babies will never experience the NICU, but if yours does, know that there is an army of passionate, highly trained caregivers ready to help your little one get healthy and strong, and help you navigate the NICU.

If you have any questions about the NICU at Shady Grove Medical Center or about our maternity services, meet with our Birth Advisor who can talk you through your birth plan and upcoming delivery.