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The NICU Journey from a Parent’s Perspective

Nov 20, 2023

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a place where tiny fighters, often born prematurely or with health challenges, receive specialized care and attention. But what is the NICU like from a parent’s perspective?

For parents, the NICU journey can be an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s also a journey of incredible strength, resilience, and love.

In this article, we’ll explore the NICU through the eyes of a parent who has been there.

Who’s Who in NICU

First, let’s talk about a few key team members you’ll meet in the NICU:

  • Neonatologists: These are the specialists who oversee the care of premature babies and those with health challenges.
  • Neonatal nurses: They provide round-the-clock care, handling feeding, bathing, and monitoring.
  • Respiratory therapists: These experts monitor premature babies’ breathing and handle the equipment that helps them breathe more easily.
  • Social workers: They provide emotional support through your NICU journey, helping you navigate the healthcare system and find resources.

How the NICU Works

The NICU can seem intimidating at first, but understanding how it works can make it less overwhelming:

  • Different support levels: NICUs come in various levels, from 1 to 4, with Level 4 handling the most complex cases.
  • Organization: NICUs are organized differently. Some group preemies with similar care needs together, while others have traditional or pod-based layouts.
  • Age tracking: Tracking your baby’s gestational or adjusted age alongside their actual age is important. NICUs often refer to a baby’s age based on how far along the pregnancy was when they were born.
  • Visitation rules: Visitation rules and hours vary by NICU, so it’s crucial to check with your specific unit.
  • Shift changes: Learning when shift changes happen can help you know when to introduce yourself to the new team and when the best time to call is.
  • Continuity of care: Check if you can request primary nurses for your baby, as continuity of care can ease some of the stress in this challenging journey.

The NICU Journey

Now, let’s walk through the NICU journey, a journey that’s unique for every family:

  • Emotional rollercoaster: The NICU journey is an emotional rollercoaster. You may experience a wide range of emotions, often all at once. It’s okay to feel deeply, and nobody can tell you how to feel.
  • Processing emotions: Working through these emotions is vital, but it’s okay if you can’t process everything while still in the midst of it.
  • Journaling: Many parents find journaling, whether through writing, video, or audio, to be therapeutic. Capturing what’s happening and what you’re feeling can provide valuable reference points.
  • Survival mode: Remember that you’re in survival mode, and it’s essential to give yourself grace and time to heal.


The NICU journey is filled with challenges, but it’s also a journey of incredible strength, resilience, and love. Every milestone, no matter how small, is a triumph worth celebrating.

As a NICU parent, you’re part of a unique and supportive community. Your journey is unlike any other, and you have the strength to navigate it. Remember that you’re not alone, and there’s a team of dedicated professionals and fellow parents ready to support you every step of the way.

Through the ups and downs, you’ll find strength in the love you have for your little one. Your NICU journey is a testament to the power of love, hope, and resilience.

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