Kristen Tippit never imagined her baby would end up in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Her son, Otter, was born with dangerously low blood sugar. Doctors and nurses treated him in the NICU for nearly three weeks in the spring of 2020.
Tippit described it as "a long, overwhelming, worrisome and confusing 20 days."
About 10% to 15% of babies born in the United States end up in the NICU each year. After Otter recovered, Tippit and her partner, Jon Porter, decided to create a nonprofit organization to educate and support other parents going through similar experiences. They recently launched Logic.baby, a site that features videos from neonatologists, nurses, social workers, mental health specialists and former NICU parents.
Below are some of the couple's tips, along with things they wish they had known before their son's NICU experience.
1. Prepare for the unexpected. Most pregnant women never imagine that their baby might need time in a NICU. Consider the possibility, and think about choosing a hospital based on the level of care offered for newborns. Be aware of where you would want your baby treated in a medical crisis.
2. Educate yourself beforehand. Couples who are expecting multiples or those in high-risk situations should try to learn about their hospital's NICU before labor begins. Request a tour of the space, and gather information about the staff and equipment available. Porter says he would have felt less overwhelmed if he and Tippit had "known more about what we were getting into."
3. Take advantage of the support offered. Therapists, nurses, social workers, lactation consultants and medical specialists are all part of the support network for families in the NICU. They can also help connect you to other resources.
4. Get both parents involved in bonding. As a first-time father, Porter said he learned how to prepare his son's bottles, change diapers and handle pumped breast milk while in the NICU. "It felt great to be so involved," he said.
5. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Parents may feel overloaded with information. Porter recalled saying things like, "I don't understand. Can you please repeat that?" Or, "I'm kind of freaking out. Can you start over?" He and Tippit asked one specialist, "What are some things we should be asking about? What are the questions other parents have asked?" Those answers helped inform further conversations.
6. Build relationships with the staff. Tippit and Porter brought coffee and snacks for the staff, were mindful of the demands of their work and politely phrased their requests instead of making demands.
7. Create a communication plan. Not all parents can be at the hospital at all times. Find out when doctors do their rounds and request to be called with an update at that time. Some hospitals allow video calls, making it easier for parents to connect with the medical staff.
8. Learn how to be an advocate. Parents are an integral part of their baby's recovery. Tippit said they occasionally requested additional meetings before making a medical decision. Parents may not have medical training, she said, but they still know their baby best.
9. Rely on the nurses. Porter said they asked the shift nurse to accompany them when they had a meeting with the doctor. The nurse could also ask questions and debrief them afterward.
10. Try to coordinate schedules. Complicated medical issues require a team of various physicians. Tippit said that whenever possible, they asked their baby's attending doctor to be present (or call) when the endocrinologist checked in. This gave the doctors a chance to communicate while the parents were present -- everyone could be part of the same conversation.
11. Notice any patterns. Otter required frequent heel pricks to check his blood sugar levels. When the initial reading was high, the nurses would have to draw blood for a more thorough test, which was more painful and invasive. The second reading was often fine. Noticing this pattern, his parents asked to try a second heel prick if the first reading was high. This cut down the number of times their baby had to get his blood drawn.
12. Take care of yourself. Remember to lean on friends and family, especially if you have other children needing care at home.