What is it like being NICU parents in a pandemic?

Very few people expect to experience neonatal care. It isn’t part of the plan when we find out we are expecting a baby. To say having a baby in neonatal care is stressful doesn’t really cut it. So finding yourself with a baby on the neonatal unit, in the middle of a global pandemic. There really are no words to sum up exactly what that feels like for families who are living it.

COVID-19 has forced parents who are unimaginably stressed and anxious to make the choice of which one of them goes to the neonatal unit. Efforts to decrease the footfall in hospitals has meant that only one parent can go to the neonatal unit to be with their baby at a time. The other has to wait until they leave. They’re not able to attend at all if they are self isolating due and can go for up to 14 days without seeing their baby. Their usual support networks aren’t available due to social distancing, increasing the risk of isolation and poor mental health.

Rigorous infection control measures are not alien to parents on the neonatal unit. We get into a routine of excessive hand washing and steering clear of germs pretty quickly. However new measures mean parents are also having to wear masks in hospitals, even during skin-to-skin (cuddles). Another barrier to being a parent and another reminder that things are a long way from normal.

Read about Claire and Keely’s NICU journey during the pandemic!

Claire and Keely had their little boy Rowan 26 weeks into Keely’s pregnancy. He was born just before lockdown started. To say their journey was tough is an understatement.

The couple who are based in Manchester, were a few days into a break in Scotland when Keely gave birth to their baby 26 weeks into her pregnancy. Hundreds of miles from home, with an impending pandemic. They experienced deep trauma and unimaginable challenges.
You can read more about Claire and Keely’s story becoming parents in a pandemic here.

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NICU’s haven’t been able to close because of COVID-19!

Parents like Claire and Keely are facing tough challenges every single say . Neonatal units aren’t closed because we are in a pandemic. Neonatal Networks and units are doing their best to support families. But parents are having to make a choice of which one of them stays at home whilst the other is with their baby. Parents completely understand why the restrictions are in place. But they are experiencing trauma and they are having to experience it alone, without their support networks around them. Parents on the neonatal unit need to be completely integrated into the teams caring for their baby and now more than ever we need to find ways to make this possible which is safe for everyone. Neonatal units that have worked so hard to establish Family Integrated Care are now having to tell parents that there restrictions to parental access. Parents are stressed about the risk of their baby catching COVID-19 on the neonatal unit. All they want is for their baby to be safe and they will do anything to keep it that way. This also causes huge anxiety when parents take their baby home.

The mental health of parents is at risk. There are more barriers to being a parent on NICU than ever before. It is heartbreaking and we have to ensure that parents get the right support on the neonatal unit and in the community in the coming months.

If you have had a baby on the neonatal unit in Greater Manchester and would like to access mental health support via Spoons please get in touch via [email protected]

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You can find a list of other organisations who may be able to offer support in your area here