Mother caring for her NICU infant.

If your baby needs to stay in the NICU after delivery it can be an overwhelming time that, quite frankly, is impossible to truly prepare for. NICU parents are some of the strongest people out there, but the emotional rollercoaster of a baby’s NICU journey can still feel surprising. Here are some of the common—and totally normal—emotions you may experience if your sweet baby needs some extra care in the NICU.

Feeling Scared

This one might be more obvious. Whether you were expecting your little one to need some time in the NICU or not, it can be scary anytime your baby needs medical attention. Fearing whether your baby may have a serious illness and how you’ll take care of a baby who may have special medical needs is totally understandable. These kinds of fears can lessen over time, but during an early part of baby’s NICU stay it’s common, and totally ok, to feel a little scared for your baby. 

Feelings of Loss

Every parent dreams about what their first few days with their baby will be like, and almost no parent envisions a premature or ill baby in the NICU. It’s OK to experience feelings of loss over what you expected, and to mourn the fact that your experience wasn’t the perfect start that you hoped for.

If your birth wasn’t what you expected, or you needed a lot of medical intervention to bring your baby into the world, you and your partner might also feel robbed of your planned birth experience. A lot of mamas of premature babies also say they simply didn’t feel ready to give birth, and might even mourn the end of their pregnancy. It might take some time to move past these feelings of loss. Give yourself permission to work through your emotions, and lean on your partner and supporters.

Feeling Guilty

A lot of parents have feelings of guilt if their baby is born prematurely or with health problems. 
Thoughts that begin with “If only I hadn’t…” and “What if I…” can run through your head, and that’s normal. But, mama, for most NICU babies, the reasons they were born early or sick are totally unknown. Repeat after us:  “I didn’t do anything to cause this circumstance, I’m a wonderful mama, and my baby and I are lucky to have each other.”

Feeling Frustrated

Feelings of intense frustration—or even anger—can surprise NICU parents, but it’s a common reaction to their situation. Frustration and anger can present in different ways—feeling irritated with the medical staff, feeling frustrated that your birth didn’t go as planned, feeling mad at yourself, your partner, your family—or feeling just plain angry that you aren’t able to control the events going on around you. Whether your anger is causing you to lash out, or making your blood boil secretly inside of you…acknowledge your feelings. Talk to your partner and the NICU staff about how you’re feeling, and they may be able to help you figure out how to deal with the anger or frustration when it bubbles up. 

Being a NICU parent is hard. And feeling these feelings is completely normal. No matter what you’re experiencing, take time to acknowledge your feelings, and accept (and even embrace) them. It might feel good to talk to other NICU families, since they’ll truly understand what you’re going through. Another thing that can feel good? Celebrating each new milestone your baby achieves. Whether your little one gets off of oxygen, or is able to breast or bottle feed for the first time, these big steps can bring you some hope, joy and positivity—and those feelings deserve recognition, too. 

No matter how you’re feeling on any given day, remember to let your feelings out. Keeping such big emotions inside can be exhausting. You’re going to want to save as much energy as you can for visits with your beautiful little baby!