working preemie mom

Just wandering if anyone can shed from insight on working, having a micro preemie in the NICU and two other small children. Having a hard time trying to space my time. Open to suggestions.

Report post

17 replies. Join the discussion


Do you have a husband or partner involved? I ask b/c someone who has a partner who really wants to be involved in his/her children's lives can make the experience a lot different than someone who is completely (or nearly completely for all practical purposes) on her own.

I was fortunate to have the former situation. We didn't have other children at the time but we both worked full time (although I'm a teacher and researcher and my son's birth happened at the start of summer, so I was able to spend a lot of time in the NICU).

The first thing that I'd suggest if you have a spouse/partner is to make sure that person is in the NICU as much or almost as much as you. Consider a rotating schedule of some sort. Fathers in particular sometimes get pushed aside and aren't asked to participate in the child's cares (e.g., diaper changes, temperature checks) in the NICU. Most (not all but most) men are often not as comfortable caring for babies as are women. Then when baby is a micropreemie or very low birth weight preemie, the baby is particularly fragile which can be off putting. The sooner the father participates in cares, the more likely he will be to help out once baby comes home. Just as physical contact is important for attachment with moms, it is also true for dads. If I had small children at home, I'd be inclined to rotate who goes into the NICU so that both parents are comfortable touching and caring for baby. Moms (with their often really strong desire to care for baby) sometimes push dads aside in the beginning b/c they want to be around baby as much as possible. Then, a couple months down the road, moms get resentful when they are doing everything and the fathers don't have that same kind of drive to do things for the babies.

The second thing that I recommend is taking any help that is offered from trusted friends and family. There is often an instinct to reject offers of help with little things (e.g., walking the dogs, picking up the mail, whatever). If you have people willing to help out, take them up on their offers so that you have more energy to be with your kids.

The third thing is giving yourself permission to let things slide a little bit at home in terms of organization. If the dishes aren't put away as quickly as they used to be or you only vacuum every other week instead of every week, so be it. If you have to get take-out more often rather than make things from scratch, so be it. Time with kids is much more important than having one's home look like it is from Better Homes & Gardens.

For baby in the NICU, you can do things like wear swatches of cloth under your clothes (e.g., tucked in bra) so that it picks up your smell. Then, leave the cloth pieces with baby for when you are gone.

Try to see baby frequently. For example, it is probably better to see baby everyday for an hour then once every three days for 3 hours. And do make sure that you get as much sleep as you reasonably can. A worn out mom is more likely to become depressed (PPD is a very real concern for NICU moms) than a mom who has gotten some sleep.

Best wishes on balancing everything. We have all sorts of moms on this website so no matter what your lifestyle is, it can be done!

Report post

I had my twins at 27 weeks. At home my son was not even 2 and my daughter 4. I felt terrible not being with my babies all the time but new my older two needed me too. Between pumping milk and comuting to hospital it felt like i was being torn in two. I agree that if you have a partner then its easier. I would visit everyday for a hour or two. I found that bedtime was beter cause my older children wasnt missing me much. Hope all works out. By the way my boys are 9 months and we have a bond like no other so they dont know when your not always there but the older ones do

Report post

Our son & daughter-in-law faced the same during our lo's NICU stay. She adopted the quote, "You don't know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have." So many have to work for financial and insurance purposes, and this is very tough. I hope that you have parents that you can count on to help. As Grandparents, we can be with the other children, creating environments where even though their lives are also impacted, we can help provide stability. I worked full time during our lo's NICU stay, but when our son & daughter-in-law were with their other children, we would go to the NICU at night and play the recorded books with their voices for our lo. Our daughter helped by having play dates with our granddaughter. When we kept our granddaughter over night, we also had our other grandchildren stay and made it special so that she did not think she was just there because of the baby. Please make your needs known, how you would like them carried out, and ways that others can help the most. Most importantly try to get enough rest yourself. Best wishes.

Report post

Take each day one at a time. You will feel pulled in numerous directions each day but follow your gut on where you are needed most on that particular day. After a 105 day stay at the NICU this summer/fall, I look back and realize that I caused extra anxiety on myself when not balancing life as I felt I should. Take time for everyone individually, if even for a short amount of time. Sometimes time with my husband alone consisted of going to the NICU together (with the one hour travel time each way) rather than alone as we usually took shifts daily. My older son sometimes just needed to get out for ice cream or a movie. Make sure to allow yourself some time to rest and relax. Your continued health both physically and mentally is so very important right now. Allow others to help you as much as possible. I turned down so much from others because I felt like I could juggle it all. Others will offer assistance because they WANT to help, not because they feel obligated. Getting conncected with others on this site now will also be beneficial. I wish I would have turned this direction much earlier for the support and advice of those who have been there. God Bless you!!

Report post

RE: "I found that bedtime was better cause my older children wasnt missing me much."

I always went during the day. My husband and I (or just my husband) would go at night. When we went at night, we often went 9PM or after b/c it was so crowded after shift change at 7:45PM. Crowded = noisy and less staff to help us set up for kangarooing. Much better after 9PM.

Report post


We had the help of my parents throughout the NICU and thereafter. We didn't have other children at the time, but my parents often went to the NICU (intentionally during times when they knew we weren't there) so that our son had someone to watch over him. My dad went every single day (usually for an hour in the morning around 8AM). My mom came almost every late afternoon just as I was leaving to go home.

When our son came home, my parents also came over every day for about a year. To this day, they have a very special relationship with him.

Thank goodness for wonderful grand parents!

Report post

One more thought. I don't know what your NICU is like, but our lo was in her own room. Every Friday night her sister stayed with either us or her other grandparents and our son and daughter-in-law spent the night and the next day in the NICU. Once they were working, they went separately most of the week so their 3 year old was with one of them. Friday nights gave them the night to be together with their baby. They called it date night at the NICU.

Report post


When my daughter was in the NICU my son was 2. I worked full time and commuted about 45 minutes a day each way. My husband and I split time between the NICU and home. My husband would take the morning shift ... he would spend about an hour a day with my daughter before work and I would take the after work shift. We would eat dinner each night as a family and I would spend a few minutes with my son reading to him ... then as my husband was getting my son into bed I would go to the NICU and spend a couple hours (usually 3-4) with my daughter. Half the time I would fall asleep holding my daughter and thankfully the nurses never yelled at me ... I would always use a pillow underneath her so there was no way she was going to fall. My son would usually come to see my daughter in the morning when I went to pick my husband up ... this way he saw his sister every day but didn't need to spend long hours there (which would never have worked).

On the weekends, we would always do things as a family for a few hours during the day (just the three of us) and then at night I would spend extra time with my daughter. My husband would spend a couple of hours with our daughter each weekend day as well ... we would trade off who was watching my son. I also took advantage of the help offered and more than once my son got to spend time with his two aunts getting loads of attention. We always treated this like a special event and if he didn't want to go we just adjusted our plans accordingly (this happened a couple of times).

This worked well for us but was very tiring. It is important that you take care of yourself. A few times, the nurses would tell me that I could a miss a day ... they wouldn't think any less of me ... but I personally couldn't bring myself to miss a day. Just me being me ...

Congrats on your little one ...


Report post

If the help of your family is available, make sure you take advantage of it. My daughter was 10, old enough to understand yet still needs attention. My sisters would really take her and spent quality, fun time with her in order for her to not feel left out. I did dedicate my time to my son in the NICU, I always reminded her that I loved her and this situation was temporary.

Best of luck!

Report post

If the nurses and doctors at your NICU are anything like mine, they are wonderful and take amazing care of your little one. I went back to work right away after having my 28 weeker. His hospital is an hour away from home so my husband and I took turns going down to kangaroo with him each weekday and spent more time with him during the weekend. After a month of that we started taking more breaks and spending at least one day a week without seeing him. We were both getting really wiped out. Now my son has transitioned to a crib and we started breastfeeding so I need to be there more. I am really happy that I took some time to myself earlier. I do not think it effected our bonding. He seems to know me and will settle down quickly when I hold him.

Do not be afraid to spend some time away from your little one. S/he is getting exceptional care and is not as aware that you are not there as your other children will be. Especially if s/he is still in an isolette, take time for yourself and the rest of your family. As s/he gets bigger and closer to going home you will want/need to spend more time in the NICU.

Report post

RE: Beth's comment: "A few times, the nurses would tell me that I could a miss a day ... they wouldn't think any less of me ... but I personally couldn't bring myself to miss a day. Just me being me ..."

I felt the same way.

As great as most of the nurses were, the bottom line is that their job is to take care of the physical health of the child first and foremost. Love and attachment is not their job. Unless baby is extremely fragile, each nurse often has a couple other kids to care for, which means feedings/diaper changes/blood tests take priority over giving love and comfort. Fortunately, many NICUs have cuddlers (volunteers who hold the babies so that they aren't alone in their cribs all of the time), but there are obviously at lot more kids in need of human contact than there are cuddlers. Even when parents feel like they aren't doing much just by being near baby, they are actually doing what baby really needs from them--contact with someone who loves them.

Report post

To further your point, many studies show that parental involvement can help baby's brain development and can reduce the instances of PPD and PTSD, through "Positive Touch". Your suggestion about getting as much help at home is important. We made sure my mom watched one of my twins when the other was in the NICU so we could go up and do feeds. I ususally did morning, my husband did evening. I think it's important for parents to understand that while nurses and doctors do a tremendous job caring for our kids, the role of parental touch (Kangaroo, cupping feet, hearing our voice, even smelling us) has a positive effect on how our babies thrive. It is a hard balancing act, and parents shouldn't feel like they need to be there every waking moment. But a few hours a day, having one parent provide positive touch/Kangaroo, can do wonders for brain growth and helping your child thrive. It can also dramatically reduce a parent's liklihood of PPD and PTSD (by allowing them to feel more involved and connected through touch).

Report post

RE: "It is a hard balancing act, and parents shouldn't feel like they need to be there every waking moment."

I tried to do the every waking moment for awhile, and at some point, there is a law of diminishing returns. A completely exhausted, worn out mom is not going to be as good for baby as a mom who has gotten some sleep.

I had friends who really wanted me to do things like shop and get a manicure, which I declined. I personally wouldn't have felt comfortable doing those sorts of things (if I had oodles of spare time).

RE: "Your suggestion about getting as much help at home is important."

We turned down a lot of offers for help which in retrospect was a mistake. When something traumatic happens, people want to help in some ways. I didn't want to inconvenience anyone. But people sometimes truly do want to be of assistance, and there's no better time than when one has a child in the NICU! So if a neighbor is willing to walk one's dog or bring over an apple pie, I recommend taking people up on those offers. NICU parents usually need help. Friends/family want to help. It builds relationships. It strengths one's circle of friends. All of which are good things.

Report post

I had a 4 year old when my 24 weeker was born. We eventually worked into a pattern where my husband would call every morning as soon as he got up to check on the overnight. I would work for part of the day and spend the afternoon in the NICU. I'd then pick up my older son from day care and spend the evening with him while my husband spent the evening in the NICU. If we had a sitter, we'd try to go together on the weekends. If not, my husband would go in the morning and then I'd go in the afternoon. It was a very crazy time, but we just had to figure out what worked for us.

Best of luck to you!

Report post

Thank you all for the wonderful advice. I do have a partner at home, but that is a different story in itself. I have a 5 and 8 year old and I also take care of my boyfriends 10 year old most of the time as well. I am currently working full time and feel like I am about to lose my mind because I cant be at the hospital like I should nor do I get to spend as much time with my other children. My mother and sister are really great with watching my other children, but I feel guilty because I can't be there for them all the time like I used to before I had their new baby sister. I do not like having to ask others for help. My boyfriend seems to not think nothing of my balancing act! Is there any reading material that anyone knows of to teach fathers how to be more supportive and involved in the NICU process?

Report post

"Is there any reading material that anyone knows of to teach fathers how to be more supportive and involved in the NICU process?"

Has he been going to the NICU as well? If so, maybe the nurses can help you help him be more involved. Only you know the dynamics involved, but sometimes, people might be more receptive to hearing things from "authority" figures, such (in the this case) the nurses than from their partner/spouse. When our DD was in the NICU, I started kangaroo care a few days after she was born. DH refused to do so, even when I tried to convince him. A nurse was the one who finally pushed/encouraged him to do it. Feel free to ask your nurses for similar help. I think nurses tend to talk more to the mothers, but indicate to your nurses that you want help involving your partner, and they can turn their efforts on him.

Report post

Does your boyfriend ever visit the baby (his, yes?)? If so, perhaps you can encourage him to bond with baby and have the nurses subtly prime him on the importance of fathers in the lives of their children? Hopefully, every time he is at the NICU, he should be encouraged to do diaper changes and whatnot. That's very important for getting him comfortable to care for baby.

The bottom line is during the next couple months, you won't be there for your kids like you were before BUT the NICU won't last forever. It ends up being a surreal blip on your life's timeline. That's great that you have a mother and sister involved with your kids. That's truly excellent news.

This is likely to be a very stressful time for everyone in the family. The kids see you stressed, so they get stressed. It's tough.

One thing about your partner, boyfriends/husbands are not mind readers. And sometimes spouses (both men and women) are not as sensitive as they should be to what the other person is going through. Consequently, it is best just to state with out malice or emotion exactly what you need. Ex. "John, I need to take a shower. Can you please get dinner started?" Just state what you need w/o judgment. If you want to be charitable, you can then ask what he needs after you've done what he need to do. Perhaps he'll pick up that he should be asking those kind of questions.

Perhaps at the start of each week (Sunday), you could come up with a list of what needs to be done in the household, the times you and your partner are working, the times that the children need to be taken care of and/or taken places, and the times when someone should be at the NICU with your baby. Figure out which chores can be done while watching the other kids. Then, ask your partner which things on the list he will be doing and which things you will be doing. Try to even it out so that both partners are roughly doing the same amount of work (whether that's work outside the home or inside the home). When going to the NICU, the person doing the visit can pick up the groceries on the way back home. Always trying to be as strategic with time as possible.

Best wishes.

Report post

This discussion is closed to replies. We close all discussions after 90 days.

If there's something you'd like to discuss, click below to start a new discussion.

Things you can do

Discussion topics

Preemie links and resources

Narratives from the NICU -- Read the special report

Community leaders