How I overcame the NICU mom guilt while surviving the NICU

by Holly
NICU mom guilt

As an NICU mama, you may feel overwhelmed with NICU mom guilt.

You may be unsure of yourself and the decisions you’re making.

But don’t worry – those feelings are totally normal!

You are not alone in your journey. As a twice NICU mom, I understand the struggle to find your footing and conquer any persistent feeling of NICU mom guilt that can creep up on us when our baby is on this difficult journey with us.

And as we know all too well, raising a premature baby comes with its own unique challenges.

In this blog post, I am excited to share 11 tips that have helped me work through my own feelings of guilt while navigating life in the NICU.

NICU mom guilt

What is the average time parents spend with their baby in the NICU

Although statistics might show that moms visit their NICU babies 6.2 days per week (4.7 days for dads), it’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is different. If you live far away, have other kids at home, or just need some rest, then your availability will vary – and that’s okay!

Take into consideration your own individual needs and limitations when deciding what works best for you. Additionally, keep in mind the average number of days premature babies spend in the NICU, which is 13.2 days.

It can be a long road, so make sure to take care of yourself along the way.

Do NICU babies have attachment issues?

Research shows that infants who spend time in the NICU are 6.1 times more likely to have problems forming attachments during their early years compared to those who did not spend time in the NICU. This means that it is important to take steps to reduce the chances it will occur.

Both of my kids were swept away right after they were born. I was only able to hold Madi for 3 minutes until she was transferred to the NICU. As for W, I didn’t even see him for the first time until 2 days later.

From there on, staying close to them while they developed in the NICU became a priority for me; not only because I wanted them to know that they were loved, but also so that I could make peace with my NICU mom guilt.

Holding my infants in kangaroo care, talking and singing to them gave me solace and a connection that got us all through those days when being apart felt impossible.

average time parents spend with baby in NICU

NICU baby bonding tips

Creating a connection with your baby in the NICU can be an emotional roller coaster – from feeling helpless to burdened by guilt. However, there are plenty of ways to form those much-needed bonds despite any physical boundaries (the incubator, lines, and tubes) that may seem demanding.

Visit your baby every day

Even if your baby is in the incubator and you can’t touch or hold her, she knows you are there for her.

Always wash your hands before vising your baby. Never stroke a preemie’s skin since they are not fully developed yet. You want to touch your baby to make her feel calm, cared for, and loved.

Feed your baby

Feeding is an important component whether you breastfeed or use bottles.

The instinct to survive is a powerful force that runs through every living creature, but it manifests itself differently in us humans. For us, feeding is fundamental to the sense of security we get from the ones who take care of us in our early years — namely, our parents.

A mother’s bond with her newborn baby through bottle-feeding or breastfeeding brings about comfort and trust between them. The baby becomes familiar with their food and also the face of their parent; it creates a lasting connection of love and security.

coping with baby in NICU

Do the kangaroo care

Doing skin-to-skin with your baby benefits both mom and baby. It increased our milk supply, while stabilizes the baby’s heart and respiratory rates, and improves oxygen saturation rates. Pretty cool right?

Ask your NICU nurse for a comfortable reclining nursing chair. I didn’t find out that our NICU has it weeks after until one of the nurses asked me if I want to sit in one!

If your baby’s condition allows, do at least 30 minutes every skin-to-skin session. During our NICU stay, Baby W feeds every 3 hours. Since he always falls asleep on my bare chest, we do skin-to-skin about an hour before his feeding time so that he can feed after a good hour-long sleep.

Try to spend time bonding with your baby as much as possible. But being a NICU mom doesn’t have to be filled with stress, guilt, or pressure — there are plenty of things you can do every day that will help alleviate anxiety and provide relief from this overwhelming season of life. Continue reading for my best tips to overcome the NICU mom guilt.

nicu mom advice

11 Tips to conquer the NICU mom guilt

Know that your baby won’t remember the NICU time

Every day spent in the NICU feels like an eternity but when you look at it from your baby’s entire lifetime, it’s only a tiny fraction of their lifespan.

W had a whole bunch of IV lines going into his wrists and belly button. He was intubated and had sensors attached to his tiny head for stroke surveillance. And if that’s not enough torture for my 4-pounder, he wore a harness for his hip dysplasia that immobilized him for 12 weeks.

As a mother, it broke my heart to witness all the pain my precious NICU baby had to endure.

Despite spending the first months of his life in a hospital, W has grown into an incredibly brave five-year-old. If there’s a silver lining to his NICU stay, I’d say that he faces all doctor’s visits and immunization shots head-on with no fear!

Your baby is getting the best care possible

You can rest assured knowing that your bundle of joy is in the best hands. The team of dedicated professionals in the NICU has a wealth of experience and knowledge to make sure that your baby is receiving top-notch care. They will be with you every step of the way and make sure that your little one gets all the attention, treatment, and extra love they need to grow up healthy and strong.

You can rest easy knowing that your baby is getting the best care possible, allowing you the peace of mind to focus on other things such as increasing your milk supply.

preemie mom guilt

You are not alone

If you are feeling guilty about your baby being in the NICU, know that you are not alone. Many other moms have gone through this exact same thing and they understand how you are feeling. There is no need to feel guilty or ashamed – you are doing everything you can to help your baby.

When W was in the NICU, he had a roommate, and I ended up talking to his mom. We swapped our birth stories as well as what we were all planning on doing after our babies are discharged.

No one is ever alone in the NICU—we all shared stories of solidarity and bonded over our joys, fears, and the hope that everything would eventually be just fine.

Seize the opportunity to get ready for your baby’s homecoming

While your baby is being cared for in the NICU, you can use this period of time to make sure everything is ready for when your little one comes home.

Instead of feeling guilty about it, seize the opportunity!

Once you’re finished decorating the nursery and stocking up on diapers, all those extra touches will ensure you’re fully prepared for the big day. Don’t forget to look for the best clothes for NICU babies and, if applicable, begin researching childcare options so you can go back to work with peace of mind.

It’s also beneficial to get your maternity paperwork done during the NICU stays.

Even though it may be overwhelming at times, preparing yourself before bringing baby home from the NICU helps ease any stress and makes welcoming your baby home smoother.

Prioritize taking care of yourself as well as baby in the NICU

I was two weeks into my daily visit to the NICU and feeling guilty for not being able to do more. But then, as I was pulling into the hospital’s parking lot, I suddenly felt dizzy and had to quickly park in a handicapped spot and rest until it passed.

That’s when it struck me: all the traveling, pumping, and worrying had taken their toll on my physical and mental well-being without me even noticing.

So, ever since that day, I’ve made a conscious effort to not let guilt consume me but instead find ways for postpartum self-care so that I can bring peace of mind knowing that both my physical and mental health are taken care of. It’s been difficult at times but listening closely to how my body is feeling has truly helped me shift my perspective so that empowering guilt doesn’t take over.

Your baby knows you love them

The fact that you are reading this article proves that you care and want the best for your little one. You’ve come seeking comforting advice and ways to cope with what you’re going through, which shows just how devoted a mom you are.

Even though you may not be physically with your baby all the time, they can sense your love and your touch, which is helping to heal and make them strong.

When you have time away from the hospital, take advantage of that—ensure you get enough rest and relaxation in order to recharge and heal yourself. But when you visit your baby give 100%, and focus on being present in that moment. Your baby loves and appreciates it, even if they don’t yet know how to tell it.

NICU mom guilt and support

You are doing everything you can

When the feelings of NICU mom guilt arise, just take a second to remind yourself that you are doing everything humanly possible for your baby. You’re surviving the NICU, doing your best to increase your milk supply, and visiting them every day with loads of love and care.

You’re your baby’s biggest advocate and they know that even if words can’t express it yet! So don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary guilt, accept that you are doing the most you can to get your little one through this tough stage of life.

Know that it is not your fault

It’s easy to blame yourself for your baby being in the NICU, but you need to remember that it isn’t your fault.

When I was told that I had suffered from a placenta abruption I immediately felt like I should have known the risk. If I had gained more weight during my pregnancy the outcome would have been different. If I had checked into the hospital earlier, my baby wouldn’t suffer brain trauma at birth.

These thoughts are totally natural but unfortunately completely fruitless. There are situations where no one could have predicted the outcome or prevented it. So give yourself a break, take deep breaths, and know that sometimes these things just happen.

Have someone to talk to

Overcoming the NICU mom guilt can be an incredibly challenging journey. Having a great support system is essential and starts with talking to your partner – they’ll always listen.

It’s also beneficial to reach out to your ob-gyn and NICU nurses as they can provide so much insight you may be missing. If this isn’t enough, many hospitals offer visits from social workers, NICU support teams or a pastor to help express any feelings you are going through.

When I was at the Children’s hospital, I had several opportunities to talk through my emotions and it was such a weight off my shoulders (and heart!).

Connecting with people who understand and want what’s best for you is key on the long road of overcoming NICU mom guilt.

It’s ok to show your emotions

There are times when you may be feeling overwhelmed, sad, scared, or just downright frustrated about the situation that your baby is in. It can be so easy to bottle up these emotions, but letting out those tears can often be one of the best things that you can do for yourself.

I know from experience that it’s perfectly normal and healthy to cry in front of your NICU doctor or nurse if that’s what helps you cope. Even though at first it felt uncomfortable for me to let my true emotions show like this, I eventually learned that nobody was judging me for it – they only wanted me to have the best possible outcome for my child.

Showing your emotions in situations like these can make all the difference in the world when it comes to coping with NICU mom guilt!

when NICU babies come home

This is just a temporary situation

It’s important to remember that this trying time will eventually end. Your baby is strong and resilient and will soon be back with you where they belong.

Reminding yourself of the end goal – a healthy baby at home – can help relax the weight and guilt you may be holding onto.

To make sure you’re able to deal with your thoughts, allow yourself some alone time every day to process what you are going through, It’s normal and it won’t last forever.

Last thing you need to know about NICU mom guilt

You are not alone in your journey as a NICU mom. And even though it’s hard, you’re doing an amazing job. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself some grace. These tips should help you feel just a little bit better about yourself and hopefully lessen the load of NICU mom guilt that you may be carrying around.

If you have any other tips or want to share your story, please leave a comments below.

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Jaz January 9 - 1:23 pm

I’m sure that’s probably one of the most difficult things a mom can go through! Thank you for sharing with others.

Ashley January 9 - 3:10 pm

Wow! This was super informative and the infographic so helpful! Great post ❤️

Holly January 9 - 4:55 pm

I’m glad it’s helpful 🙂

Fransic verso January 10 - 10:29 am

This is really interesting, didn’t know about the Kangaroo one. I will share this with my family. Thank you for sharing!

Renee January 10 - 10:42 am

I can’t imagine how that would be. My son was in NICU but only for a very short time.

julie January 10 - 10:53 am

I didn’t know NICU mom guilt was a thing! My younger sister was a NICU nurse for many years and loved her job!

Angela January 10 - 11:04 am

What a great testimony. Very helpful for other parents

Victoria @ The Contented Reader January 10 - 5:09 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story and for sharing your advice, it’s incredibly helpful.

Holly January 10 - 5:47 pm

I’m happy that you find these tips helpful!

Celebrate Woman Today January 10 - 5:39 pm

What a beautiful post, Holly! I learned so much from your personal experience which is so powerful and so educational to all other women and men as well.

Holly January 10 - 5:46 pm

I’m glad to hear that. Thank you!

Nadalie January 11 - 9:15 am

Love this post! Thanks for sharing your experience! I know a couple of NICU moms as well and I know that it’s not easy.

Marysa January 11 - 9:57 am

Having a NICU baby must be so difficult, and a challenge. I think we all experience mom guilt at some point, and dealing with an infant in the NICU is so stressful.

Nishtha January 11 - 3:50 pm

I know of a few NICU babies and this was a great read. Many new moms can benefit from these amazing tips

Holly January 11 - 4:29 pm

I’m glad these tips are helpful:)

Rose Ann Sales January 11 - 9:36 pm

Aww, you are one of the most amazing moms that I know, grateful you shared this because we know that our fellow moms need this, especially those who have had NICU babies. Through this post, they would know that they are not alone.


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