Being a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) takes a special kind of person. These practitioners help babies who are having a rough go in their first days or months here—and those babies’ parents, who are often leveled by worry, stress, and sadness. Anne Morges, RN, a NICU nurse at Capital Health, has that certain special quality. Her soothing voice and calm demeanor instantly put you at ease, and her vast knowledge of how to take care of babies and their families is reassuring.

In an ideal world, you won’t meet Morges in the NICU. Your labor and delivery will go as smoothly as anticipated, with no complications and as much health and happiness as you can imagine. But for many moms, giving birth may not go exactly as planned—and if that happens, it pays to be prepared.

“There are certain things we do here that can really help new parents with babies in the NICU,” says Morges. “And if the hospital where you give birth doesn’t take the kind of multi-disciplinary approach we do, there are requests you can make and things to ask for that can help.”

Here, Morges shares her top tips for how to help a baby who’s facing health issues, and how to ask for the support you and your family need.

Be in the moment. It sounds trite and cliché, but Morges says it’s crucial to take your baby’s health status moment by moment. “Often I just try to get parents through the day—even the hour—instead of thinking about a month or two months down the road,” says Morges. “This can be so difficult to do, especially if you have a very sick baby and you’re not sure what the outcome will be.” However, it won’t help you (or your child) if you spiral to the dark place, wondering what the future holds.

Ask about the equipment. The NICU can look like an incredibly daunting place, and there’s nothing that’ll fry your nerves more than watching a doctor place your tiny, helpless, beautiful baby into a machine that looks like a torture chamber. “We try to help parents get used to the equipment so it doesn’t seem so scary,” says Morges. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about exactly what each piece of equipment does and why it’s being used on your baby.

Take frequent breaks. It’s understandable that you want to spend every waking minute in the NICU. However, it’s crucial that you take care of yourself—and get the support you need. “Talk to the hospital social workers, or maybe even a March of Dimes volunteer if one is available, to get some emotional support,” says Morges. You’ll be no good for your baby if you’re a total wreck.

Be an active participant in your baby’s care. “I try to get parents involved when I change diapers, feed the baby, and do other basic care tasks so they don’t feel totally helpless,” says Morges. If your NICU nurse isn’t forthcoming with this kind of inclusion, ask to play a bigger role. “My job is to help the mom feel like a mom, not like an outsider.”

Meet with a lactation consultant and pump. Not being able to breastfeed and bond with your newborn is heartbreaking—but pumping your milk (and getting all of the support you need throughout this process) can do wonders for your baby’s progress. “I’ve seen countless babies in the NICU do very well with breast milk,” says Morges.  “They have fewer infections and fewer intestinal problems. Plus, if you’re pumping, it can help you feel like you’re really doing something to be an active part of your baby’s care.”

Insist on Kangaroo Care (if your baby is stable). This practice places your naked baby (wearing a diaper only) against your naked chest (you’re wearing a stretchy top that both covers you and helps support your baby) so that you have skin-to-skin contact with your little one. “Baby’s heart rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature often improve during Kangaroo care, and mom’s milk supply also gets better,” says Morges. “We put mom in a comfy chair, turn down the lights, and let her be with her baby like this for at least one to two hours a day.”

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