Tips for NICU moms on how to deal with the guilt of leaving your baby in the NICU

9 Tips to Conquer NICU Mom Guilt: Not Visiting Baby in the NICU or Leaving Baby

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Not Visiting Baby in the NICU: Tips to Help NICU Moms

One of the hardest situation of a NICU mom is to leave her baby behind in the hospital.

This creates a NICU mom guilt that only NICU moms understand.

It is not natural to leave your baby and you go home.

But everything about the NICU is not “natural”.

As NICU moms, our baby’s experience is different than the typical baby as our infants need NICU care to survive.

And it’s impossible to stay at the NICU all day, everyday, as we have a life outside NICU too!

Also, many moms live far or have other kids, so they are not visiting baby in the NICU everyday.

So the guilt starts to appear because we want to stay all day and be there everyday to take care of our baby…

But we also need to leave and take care of ourselves and our other family members.

This causes intense mom guilt because we cannot be there for our baby whenever they need us.

As a NICU nurse, I always encouraged moms to go home and rest, when I saw they were exhausted.

And most of the time, the moms I worked with would always say “I’m fine” and stay longer.

It was hard for me to understand back then.

And now that I became a NICU mom, I completely understand why those moms couldn’t leave.

You are leaving a part of your heart,…your baby, to ultimately strangers.

Hopefully, through my blog, you can understand your guilt better and that it is completely normal!

You just have to make sure the guilt doesn’t take over your life and causes more damage.

In this blog, I want to provide tips to NICU parents, especially NICU moms, on how to deal with this guilt.

So let’s started!

A mom hugging her child and dealing with guilt because she is not able to see her NICU baby.

Do NICU Babies have Separation Anxiety?

This is actually a common question that NICU moms always wonder about… but never really ask or is talked about.

Will my baby have separation anxiety and will I be causing my baby damage by leaving them?

I first want to say… NO, you are not causing damage to your baby and your baby will not have any anxiety because you had to leave them in the hospital.

Your baby will not remember this part of their life…. the NICU will be a small part of their bright future.

Instead, they will remember your voice when you sang to them or read books to them.

The smell of your skin when you held them and did skin to skin,

and the breast milk you provided to feed them and keep them happy and full.

So, moms, please stop being so hard on yourselves.

You are doing everything great so far and you are being the best mom possible.

And your baby loves you for it and is very grateful for you.

Check out this post on different reasons why babies need NICU care.

NICU mom seeing her baby for the first time

How to Bond with Your Baby in the NICU

Bonding early on with your baby helps with the guilt.

The moms that have somewhat of a strong bond with their baby tend to feel confident they are doing everything they can.

This feeling of confidence that you are doing everything you can that’s in your control helps decrease the feeling of not doing enough.

But don’t get me wrong, the guilt feeling might still be there, but it’s better controlled.

So the best best tips on how to bond with your baby includes;

Gentle touch ASAP, skin to skin when stable

Start with touching your baby gently anywhere on their body. Also, try containment, which is providing a tight boundary around their head and feet so they feel contained and they are not flailing around. When stable, you can do kangaroo care or skin-to-skin.

Get involved in your baby’s daily care

From the beginning, try to do the temperature and diaper changes. As you feel more comfortable, you can start doing more care like CPAP interface changes and taking your baby out of the isolette by yourself.

Once your baby gets bigger and is able to control their temperature better, then you can start to bring in your own NICU baby clothes. There is a list of specific criteria that your baby has to meet before wearing clothing. Check out NICU Baby Clothes post on what these criteria are.

Sing and read to your baby

Your baby recognizes your voice, so singing and reading in the NICU causes your baby to recognize you as their mother.

Start a journal, write to your baby about their NICU journey

Keeping a journal and writing helps parents understand their feelings and it can be soothing. When parents write about their baby’s NICU journey, it helps them express their feelings. Also, this journal will be a keepsake for your baby in the future.

Pump and provide food for your baby

When you are pumping, you are literally providing food for your baby. This is one of the most important jobs you can be doing, at the beginning of your baby’s life. You are literally providing nutrition for your baby to grow, building brain connection through breast milk and strengthening your baby’s immune system.

When stable, try nuzzling on breast or breastfeeding

Breastfeeding or nuzzling helps strengthen the bond between mom and baby. Nuzzling or breastfeeding in the NICU is a huge milestone and it is exciting! When you can finally breastfeed, this is one of the best feelings a NICU mom experiences.

A NICU mom holding her baby after not visiting baby in the NICU.

Tips to Help Decrease the Guilt

Tip 1: Understand that your baby is at the best place they need to be

It’s hard to leave your baby, trust me I know! But once you understand and accept that your baby needs the NICU care to survive, this helps lighten the guilt. Your baby is at the perfect place they need right now. And once they are bigger and stronger, then your home will be the perfect place for them to be at.

Right now, your baby is being well taken of… a sweet nurse is feeding them, burping them and giving them cuddles. So when you come to the hospital to visit, be involved and do their daily care. And once your leave, remember they are safe and waiting for you to come back to visit.

Tip 2:Call as much as you want to check-in

The NICU is open 24 hrs a day. Once you leave the hospital, feel free to call anytime during the day or night. The nurses want parents to always call and ask about their baby. When you do call, remember to always ask if there were any changes and how the day went, since you left. Asking a vague question like that allows the nurse to review everything that happened since you left.

Tip 3:Choose primary nurses early on

Once you leave your baby at the hospital, you are scared for them and are wondering if they will be well taken care of. Even though the NICU nurses and doctors are great, there is still a natural trust issue present since you don’t really know the health care workers. Having nurses that you connect with and trust to take care of your little one is valuable, as this will help with the guilt of leaving them because there is someone you trust taking care of your baby.

Tip 4:Its hard to leave your baby… but you need to rest and become strong for your baby

Your baby needs you to rest and recover too. Being at the hospital all day every day is exhausting and it will burn you out!! Burnout can lead to sickness and then you won’t be allowed to see your baby until you recover. To avoid burnout, try to have a good balance between being at the hospital, and then going home to recover. Whenever you leave your baby, just tell yourself “I need to rest and recover so I can be strong and present with my baby”.

Also, never feel guilty about taking a break from the hospital. The NICU is a stressful place for everyone. Take that time to rest, do chores, run errands and live your life outside NICU. Once you return to your baby, you will be feeling healthy and strong again.

Tip 5:Be involved in the care of your baby early on

At the beginning of your NICU journey, it’s scary to see your baby, let alone to touch and hold. The best thing you can do at the beginning is to try to build a bond by first touching and containing your baby. Once you start to feel more comfortable, you can start taking the temperature and doing diaper changes. The more involved you can be in the daily care of your baby, the more satisfied you will be that you are doing everything you can to care for your baby.

Other things you can do is to do skin to skin as much as possible. Also, learn how to position your baby properly in the isolette and ask about proper positioning for preemies.

Tip 6: Stop blaming yourself

I know this is hard and it will take time to accept the following phrase…… it is not your fault!!! It’s not your fault that your baby was born early. It’s not your fault you developed a complicated medical condition that caused your pregnancy to end early. For premature labour and births, most of the time we have no control of our body. We do everything possible to eat healthy, exercise, stay away from all the “bad” things. But we still ended up having a high-risk pregnancy and a preemie.

For a long time, I blamed myself too! My son wasn’t growing and I had a placenta problem. Once I accepted that it wasn’t my fault and I had no control, this helped me heal and deal with the overall guilt better. This was the past and your baby is here now. So what can you do now to help your baby? Focus on the present and try your best to grieve and accept your pregnancy journey. Focus on being healthy and strong now for your baby now.

Tip 7:Start a journal and record all milestones

The NICU journey can be long and daunting. Sometimes it feels like it will never end. So try focusing on the positive. Record in a journal and tell everyone (shout through the roof!) when your baby is reaching all their NICU milestones. This helps reinforce to parents that your baby is still growing and doing well, even though we are not there 24/7. And eventually the NICU journey will end.

Tip 8:Your husband and other kids need you present too.

This is one of the toughest balance that NICU moms have to juggle…balance visiting your baby and then also making sure you spend time with your other kids. This is definitely hard and you are not alone. Every NICU mom who has other kids at home deals with this challenge.

Firstly, if you have older kids (like 3 yrs and older), try your best to explain to them why you have to leave and that you will return for them.

Secondly, try to be present and involved when you are at the hospital with your baby. Then when you are at home, be overly present and make sure you nourish the relationships with your other kids at home. This is because your older kids will remember this time of their life and how they felt when mom and dad were always going to the hospital.

Just try your best and get help if you need it. This will eventually end, so for now, hold on and continue to balance both roles. Just remember that this NICU life is temporary and eventually you will have your baby home with you and their siblings.

Tip 9: Seek help if the guilt is not manageable or it’s taking over your life.

It’s very important to recognize if you need extra help adjusting to the NICU life. Being in the NICU is not easy and everyone deals with it differently. So if the guilt of leaving your baby is causing you soo much pain and you are not able to function, talk to a social worker or the nurses at the hospital. They can give you resources for counselling.

In Conclusion on Dealing with NICU Mom Guilt

Check out this great blog post in Huffington Post by a fellow NICU mom on how she dealt with the guilt.

The guilt you feel when you have to leave your baby is completely normal and part of your motherly instinct.

The key is to try to control this guilt and don’t allow it to take over your life.

You still have a life outside NICU.

So take care of yourself, so you are mentally and physically healthy for your family.

But remember, you never have to suffer in silence!

Always seek extra help through counselling and seeing a therapist if you need to talk to someone professionally.

What was the one best thing you did to deal with your mommy guilt? COMMENT BELOW

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IG: @nicunursefaith

A mom hugging her child and dealing with guilt because she is not able to see her NICU baby.

9 Tips to Conquer NICU Mom Guilt: Not Visiting Baby in the NICU or Leaving Baby

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