The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a place that can be overwhelming for first-timers, yet still a place of real comfort in the days, weeks and months following a premature delivery. It is also a place of many questions.
We encourage parents to take advantage of their time in the NICU to ask whatever questions they have about caring for their premature babies. Questions are the key to learning. But given the environment of neonatal care, there are both good and bad ways to ask questions.
The NICU can be a stressful place when patients are critical and doctors and nurses are working under emergency conditions. Therefore, the number one rule for asking questions in the NICU is to be respectful of healthcare staff. The moment staff are rendering life-saving treatment in an emergency is not the right time for an in-depth explanation of how phototherapy works to treat jaundice. Parents should respect the need for staff to have adequate time and space to work.
The answers received in the NICU can sometimes be framed in a way designed to be as gentle with parents as possible. Framing questions in this way can be an act of compassion by a doctor or nurse, but it can be very unhelpful to parents. The best way for parents to counteract such situations is to be persistent. If the answer received is not adequate to the question asked, keep asking until quality answers are forthcoming.
Parents who are new to the whole premature baby thing often have seemingly random questions, some of which they think might be too trivial to actually ask. As an organisation that has assisted untold numbers of parents with premature babies, we can tell you that no question is too trivial. Do not doubt the worthiness of any questions you might have. Ask them.
Lastly, it's easy to let fear and anger dominate when asking questions in the NICU. Parents should do their utmost to battle that fear and anger by trusting the answers they receive. Healthcare staff are experts at what they do; they can provide the most accurate answers to the challenging questions parents ask. Let them be experts.