From NICU to Just You: Preemie Prepping Your Home for Your Baby’s Discharge

doctorFinally you get the call; your baby is almost ready to be discharged from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)! Suddenly, the anxiety of the NICU rollercoaster is replaced with the reality of bringing your once so fragile baby to your oh so germy home. (With all that has been going on, cleaning was probably the last thing on your mind). Parents go through so many emotions during their child’s NICU stay and can often find themselves both excited and scared when it comes to an end. The safety net of the NICU is soon to be removed and the responsibility of caring for our children, who have overcome so much, is solely on us.
When it was time to bring Jharid home in September of 2012 after his five month stay, I went into what I affectionately call “parent of a preemie panic mode”. I immediately began washing and disinfecting everything (and everyone) in sight. His dad and I had one goal in mind – that our clean home would be a safe haven for our little miracle baby to thrive in. And so far, it has been. However, preemie prepping before discharge is more than just getting everything clean. Bringing a baby home from the NICU requires the adoption of a new way of life, and it comes with much sacrifice. The good thing is, if you properly preemie prep you can greatly reduce the chance of your child ending up back in the NICU. When it comes down to it, our job as parents is to do our best to keep them healthy. After all, they did all the hard work! Here are five helpful hints to preemie prepping your home.
1. Adopt a Preemie State of Mind: Face it, your child coming home requires a new way of thinking, different than that of parents whose babies did not have a NICU pit stop. You have to be a little more careful about the environment your child lives in. He or she is not the typical baby; a cold can set your baby way back, and an infection can be equally detrimental. Be careful about the things, people and energy you let into your baby’s healing space. You must be disciplined. Feel comfortable in the difference and welcome it whole heartedly. No matter what people think or how they criticize, do not be ashamed of your cautiousness. If you need a little support (which I suggest), join online groups that offer just that, such as Praying4MyPreemie https://www.facebook.com/ThrivingPreemies. Not only will this group help you get into a preemie state of mind, you can also post questions and read posts from others. You are not alone!
2. Get Organized: Before any baby comes home, it is best for parents to organize the living space. Babies turn our worlds upside down, and the worst thing is for your home to look like it. Develop a system for all of the baby’s belongings. Organize your personal space and the things you use daily. Invest in a calendar for maintaining all important dates (your days over the next few months will be filled with doctor appointments, therapy and service coordination). A COZI calendar is a great resource for families; it allows you to maintain an online calendar that all of the family can access (http://www.cozi.com). Invest also in a record keeping system for medical bills, payments and insurance information. More than likely, you will need to revisit these things at some point. Conveniently post the numbers for all doctors, specialists, service agencies and your very favorite NICU nurses (they are the first line of defense). Create a system now, and it will be easier to start off organized when baby comes home.
3. Don’t Just Clean, Maintain: Before your baby comes home, disinfect everything. Vacuum the rugs and dust every room. Wash your drapes, wipe down all furniture, and clean all of your clothes (you won’t have time do it later). Clean all of the baby’s blankets, toys and clothes. However, the key to providing a safe space for your child is maintaining one after the newness wears of. It is impossible to eliminate all germs in your home forever, but you can do a very good job of minimizing the spread of them. Go through the house and make a list of all the things that are touched throughout the day. For instance: computers, door knobs, refrigerator handles, the microwave, bannisters, and faucets. These are the areas and parts of your home you want to disinfect daily and multiple times. Invest in wipes and sprays that are created to kill germs. Don’t forget devices like remote controls and cell phones; they are germ magnets. Maintain this way of living for as long as you can and it will greatly reduce the chance of you or your child becoming sick.
4. Post the Rules and Enforce Them: When your baby first comes home, visitation should be greatly limited. For those who do visit, please ensure that they are not, and have not recently been, sick. Once the visitors are in your home lay down the rules – make guests take off their shoes, wash their hands for twenty seconds, wear gloves and masks, and disinfect their phones and bags. Keep Purell around as a backup. Post the rules so that you don’t have to explain them over and over. Watch your guests and make sure they have done everything accordingly, especially before holding your baby. At some point, you may loosen the rules as your baby becomes stronger and older, but don’t relax them too much. Some friends and family won’t understand your diligence about protecting your baby. They may even say you are going overboard. That is okay – just remind yourself of the days and hours you spent in the NICU. That is all of the inspiration you need.
5. Take Some Time to Yourself: The NICU experience does not end with the NICU stay, and there will be more work to make sure your baby is developing on track. So before your baby comes home, take a moment and relax. Have a shopping or spa day; go to dinner with your loved ones. Exhale. Make a moment for meditation and prayer, bless your home. There are many moments ahead that will offer their set of challenges and you have to be ready. Whether we want to admit it or not, the NICU experience has changed who you are. You will see the world differently. Sometimes the memories will come back even after your baby is home, and the stress can return as well. Bring peace into the space and a peaceful parent along with it. Your baby wants to come home to a happy and healthy you, as if it were three days after your delivery. In fact, you both deserve that kind of homecoming.

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