Station InitiativesWellness Wednesday


Navigating the NICU with a newborn

Posted at 9:55 AM, Dec 08, 2022

When a baby needs intensive care, the crisis ripples through the family.

“It’s not something you typically plan on. It’s scary,” said Allyson Howell, a licensed clinical social worker for Intermountain Healthcare.

Admission to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit or NICU usually happens most often because the infant is born prematurely or at low birth weight or both.

Howell said Intermountain provides a comprehensive checklist so that parents can better understand the medical equipment and what is happening with their baby.

“Helping parents understand what's happening medically, helping meet their needs, with resources and support outside of the hospital to support them and their family. Seems to make it a little bit lighter,” said Howell.

Nationally, about one in ten newborns will spend time in the NICU, and Utah has more newborns than any other state. That also means Utah newborns are more likely to have siblings at home who still have needs to meet and who may be worried about their new brother or sister.

Howell said for family and friends looking to help the new parents, focusing on the siblings truly helps take a weight off their shoulders.

“Helping with older siblings to you know, help take care of them, make sure they're still having fun. You could offer to do housework. We're all terrible at accepting help. So, offering to do dishes, laundry…” said Howell. She added, “When you think about families that have a baby or a child in the NICU, maybe pack some snacks for them and buy things that can be to go pick healthy options that you know will nourish them, they can eat on the run throw in their backpack for when they're at the hospital for hours at a time.”

And when they’re out of intensive care, every parent knows having an infant is intense no matter what, and the NICU stress might exacerbate potential pitfalls that are always possible.

“I think the biggest thing both mom and dad can suffer from a postpartum mood disorder. That can be anxiety, depression, OCD, that's mom and dad,” said Howell.

Howell added, “Postpartum depression anxiety is super common. So, if you're not feeling like yourself, if you're having lots of anxiety or depression, make sure to reach out to your doctor.”

There’s been intense research into exactly which newborns should be in the NICU and for how long, with the goal to have a healthy child in its parent’s arms as soon as possible.