Hank was born September 12, 2000 at 12:34 a.m. weighing 8 lbs 7oz. and measuring 19 3/4 inches. He was absolutely perfect. Instead of crying he literally started cooing and "talking" to us. The nurses had to try really hard to make him cry! Such a sweet baby. After spending almost an hour with him, Hank was taken to the nursery for all the usual doings while I spent another hour in the LDR room for recovery and was then taken to my room. Just about the time I was settled in and DH turned out the lights for us to catch a little sleep, the telephone rang. I assumed it was the nursery calling to say Hank was ready to room-in. Instead it was the nurse calling to say he had been taken to the NICU because of breathing problems. Apparently the nurse had noticed Hank having trouble breathing and called in the neonatologist who sent him over to NICU. They suspected he had swallowed some fluid during birth. The nurse apologized for calling and not having more information, but said they had several babies come in and a couple were in critical condition. A nurse would come and talk to us as soon as possible and the neonatologist would be by as soon as he finished with the critical babies. DH and I were of course terrified - Hank had seemed perfectly healthy only a few hours before and now he was in NICU. We were completely unprepared for this. We just prayed and waited for someone to come talk to us.
About an hour later the nurse from the regular nursery came by to let us know that the neonatologist was still tied up in NICU and to reassure us that Hank was doing fine. She explained his situation a little more - he had swallowed some fluid during birth and was struggling to breath. Luckily the nursery staff had noticed this right away and he was now in NICU under an oxygen hood to help him breathe. She explained that he would probably stay there until his blood oxygen level rose. About an hour or so later the neonatologist finally came. He also apologized for not coming sooner. He explained that the fluid Hank had swallowed was causing him difficulty in breathing and put him at risk for developing pneumonia or infection in his lungs. Hank would stay in NICU under the oxygen hood until his oxygen levels rose and he would be on antibiotics for 5 -7 days to prevent infection and ward off pneumonia. He explained that although Hank's condition was serious enough to be in NICU, he was not in critical condition and would recover fully with out any anticipated side effects. We were greatly relieved. I was a little disappointed that the Dr. also put Hank on formula supplements (I wanted to strictly breastfeed), but was more than willing for Hank to have anything as long as it would help him to get better.
Finally, at about 8:00 a.m. we were allowed to see Hank. Huge compared to the teeny babies in the room with him, he still looked so vulnerable under the oxygen hood. His little chest was just heaving he was trying so hard to breathe. He also had several monitors attached and a heparin lock in his head for his medications. I was terrified to touch him. They hadn't even given him a bath because he had never been able to maintain his temperature before he was moved to NICU. The NICU nurse was wonderful. She explained what everything was and assured us not to be afraid - Hank was doing wonderfully and would probably be out from under the hood in a couple of days. He was already making progress. We held him and loved on him for a few minutes and then it was time to go. We went back every few hours to see him (scrubbing and wearing gowns each time).
After two days he was taken out from under the hood and moved to the step down nursery (between NICU and the regular nursery). We finally started trying to breastfeed (I had been pumping and carrying what I could get - not much - to the NICU). Breastfeeding was not easy in the beginning and was probably the hardest part of having Hank in NICU (other than having to see him sick of course). I had a wonderful nurse though who was VERY encouraging and kept working with us. She just kept saying "give it two weeks" (and not two weeks from when he was born, but two weeks from when we went home). She promised it would get easier at home (comfort level definitely matters!) and that we would get the hang of things. (Thankfully she was right!)
After four days in NICU/step down nursery, Hank was allowed to room in with us. (Even though I was discharged two days after having him, I was allowed to stay in a hospitality room the hospital provides to parents with babies in NICU). Hank still had to return to the nursery every four hours for meds for two days and then on the last day they just brought the meds to him. The neonatologist and the pediatrician also stopped by several times to check him. We had to keep a record of wet and dirty diapers, feedings, etc. to make sure he was eating and doing well. On the seventh day Hank, finished up his last round of medicine at 7:30 p.m. The neonatologist went ahead and signed the discharge papers and gave us the option of staying another night and leaving early the next morning or leaving that night. We left at 8:00 p.m. that night and spent our first night together in our home as a family on September 18, 2000. (Oh, BTW, I don't know if this is true with all hospitals, but at ours all babies who spend time in the NICU have to be carried out to the car by the nurse not the mommy - a little disappointing, but at least we got to bring him home finally!)
All in all I would say our NICU experience was positive. Although we were terrified at first and worried sick about Hank, the doctors and nurses were wonderful. They did everything they could to keep us informed and let us know that Hank would be just fine. Everyone was very encouraging and they took great care of Hank. And most importantly Hank is perfectly healthy now - you would NEVER guess that he spent any time in NICU.
The best advice I would give is to listen to the doctors and nurses, ask questions and don't be afraid. Especially, don't be afraid to love on the baby - that is as important as any medicine they can give the baby. If breastfeeding is important to you, INSIST on starting ASAP and in the meantime pump, pump, pump. AND be sure to take EVERY DROP of colostrum and milk you pump to the NICU. Like the love, they are as important as any medicine. Also, remember the two week advice. Breastfeeding is wonderful and perfectly natural, but it requires patience and for some us practice, practice, practice.
My hope of course is that your baby will not end up in NICU and you will not need this advice, but if it does happen I hope this helps a little.