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Newborn Intensive Care
What Every Parent Needs to Know
by Jeanette Zaichkin

If there is a comprehensive book that covers everything a parent could ever need or want to know about having a baby in the NICU, Newborn Intensive Care: What Every Parent Needs to Know is that book. This book is amazing! It is nearly 500 pages long, with seventeen chapters, five appendices, references, a table of abbreviations, and a glossary. Including the author, there are fifteen contributors, including three neonatal clinical nurse specialists, four neonatal nurse practitioners, three professors, one lactation consultant, one perinatal social worker and one neonatal discharge coordinator. Kathleen Huggins, author of The Nursing Mother's Companion, and Dr. William Sears, the author of The Baby Book (among other books) both recommend this book.

One of the things I noticed immediately when reading through this book was the abundance of real photographs. This book is full of black and white photographs of babies in the NICU: babies with tubes and wires all over; babies in isolettes and open beds; babies being gavage (tube) fed and learning to breastfeed; and more. I think this is a strength of the book, as it gives parents a real life glimpse of what life in the NICU really looks like. There is a photograph of a two-year-old girl on page 364; the same little girl is shown as a 29-week preemie weighing 1 pound 9 ounces on pages 62 and 117. If seeing this happy, healthy, normal looking little girl at the end of the book doesn't inspire hope, then I don't know what will! Pages 118-119 even have life-size footprints of babies born at 25, 28, 32, 35 and 38 weeks. I had to get out my daughter's journal and compare her footprints to those in the book, just out of curiosity. (They were just a tad smaller than the footprints shown for a 32-weeker. My daughter was a 31-weeker.)

This book covers such topics as:

  • Expecting the Unexpected
  • NICU Players: Working with the Team
  • Parenting in the NICU
  • Typical Problems of Preterm Babies and Other Sick Newborns
  • Home at Last

It also covers more difficult topics, such as "Major Medical Problems," "Neonatal Surgery," and "Difficult Choices, Gentle Good-Byes." If I had had this book while I was pregnant or when my daughter was in the NICU, I would have tried not to read the scarier chapters, as they go into great detail. I think the chapters on major problems and complications are important to include, however, for parents who find themselves facing such things with their own babies. Newborn Intensive Care: What Every Parent Needs to Know contains far more information than any one family could possibly need; therefore it probably has everything that any particular family is searching for information on.

The section on typical problems of preemies is extremely thorough and discusses in depth intravenous feeding, gavage feeding, and nipple feeding, both by breast and by bottle. I learned that babies don't typically develop the suck/swallow/breathing coordination until 32-34 weeks, and don't have a mature form of the reflex until week 38, which helped me understand why my 31-weeker had so many troubles learning to breastfeed.

The chapter entitled "Parenting in the NICU" offers some tips to help you and your family cope with the chaos and turbulence that can result from having a sick or premature baby. It offers ideas on how to tell the siblings, ways to involve the grandparents, and places to find support. I enjoyed reading the sections about barriers to parenting in the NICU. Sometimes distance is a factor, but other times there are more subtle issues, such as a lack of privacy to have quiet family time, or feeling like you have to 'play by the rules' and stay on the good side of the NICU staff. As the book says, it's like being "a guest in the health care providers' home." The authors suggest ways to help get around these barriers by forming a partnership with the NICU nurses and teaches ways to help open up the lines of communication with them. One parent is quoted in the book as saying, "The nurses became our anchors. We will never forget how they helped us get through the experience." And that's true - the nurses can and will help you get through the experience. It's nice to see a book discuss this, though - I never read anything like this in any of my 'regular' pregnancy books.

The appendices are wonderful. They cover the following topics:

  • Weights and Measures: Conversion Charts
  • Medications and Your Baby
  • Car Seat Safety
  • Parent Resources
  • CPR

They are as thorough as everything else in the book, complete with illustrations as appropriate. There are over 15 pages of resources for parents - information and support organizations, books, magazines, videotapes and mail order sources of information. I cannot say this enough - this book has an abundance of helpful, supportive and useful information in it!

Newborn Intensive Care: What Every Parent Needs to Know is a terrific book for any parent who is at risk of delivering a premature or sick newborn, or who already has a child in the NICU. I know that my husband and I would have benefited from having a book like this when our daughter was in the NICU. Knowledge is power, and this is a rich source of information. I regret that I didn't better inform myself about what having a premature baby might entail, but I know that in the future, should I get pregnant again, I will definitely keep this book on hand. This is the most comprehensive book on the NICU that I have come across.

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