6 things to consider if you’re pregnant after a NICU experience

After her son was born prematurely and needed to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), clinical psychologist Dr Frankie Harrison decided she wanted to do more to support other NICU parents. In this blog for NICU Awareness Month, she shares her advice for navigating pregnancy when you’ve previously had a baby who needed to spend time in the neonatal unit.

“Congratulations! You must be so excited!”

“Yes… and terrified, and worried, and apprehensive… and totally out of control, and as though things could go wrong at any moment… but, yes, excited.”

Having another baby after a NICU experience can bring about a huge range of different emotions. The feelings aren’t simple, they are complex and difficult and there can be a lot of thoughts that you feel you have to make sense of. 

If you find yourself pregnant after having a baby who needed to spend time in NICU, here are some of the things you can do to support yourself through it. 

How do you feel about your NICU experience?

There might be some things that are helpful to think about. How do you feel about your NICU experience? How would you feel if it was going to happen again? How do you feel about being pregnant again and having another baby? Do you have any idea of what it might bring up for you? Do you know what the risks are for having another baby? Do you know what this pregnancy might look like? 

It might be helpful to access a birth debrief to make sense of what you went through or to seek out therapy to process some of your emotions and develop coping skills. You can speak to your hospital about what debriefing services they might provide. 

Where is your partner at? 

It is important to check in and have a real conversation with your partner, to make sure you are on the same page. It might help to think about what your fears or worries are, what your hopes are, and how you are going to manage all of that together. Carve out some time where you don’t have devices or distractions and can clearly and honestly voice your feelings. If they are worried it is important to talk through those worries and how you would cope with them together, so that you can move from fear into problem solving as a team. 

The roller coaster of emotions

Pregnancy after NICU is likely to come with feelings of worry, uncertainty and fear in addition to any excitement and joy. It isn’t straightforward when you’ve had a previous birth trauma or baby in NICU. Expectant mothers are often shielded from the reality of trauma and NICU – so, when we go through it, it’s like our bubble has been popped and we’re suddenly aware of all the things that could happen to us and our babies. 

There are so many different feelings that you will feel throughout your pregnancy – it’s a rollercoaster – so practise acceptance and validation of your emotions. It’s okay to feel however you feel about this pregnancy, so try and be kind to yourself. 

Use it as a time to recreate missed moments

You may have had missed moments in your previous pregnancy and have grief attached to that – things like missed baby showers, shopping for the baby or decorating the nursery. You might want to try and do these things slightly earlier in this pregnancy so that you get to experience them this time.

Plan what is in your control

With so much being out of our control during pregnancy and birth, plan what you can control. Can you spend some time talking to a professional about what pregnancy may look like, what birth may look like, what your options are? Consider how you might cope if another NICU stay was to happen, and what you can do to be able to get through it. Think about how you are going to be supported throughout your pregnancy by your maternity team and by your friends and family, and be explicit about what you need to ease any anxiety you may have. 

Learn to let go of what you can’t control 

Tolerating uncertainty and feeling out of control can make you feel very anxious. But the more we try to grapple with things we can’t control, the more distressed we can feel. Learn to notice your thoughts and your feelings, know that they pass, know that they don’t define you and that your thoughts aren’t facts.

Take a deep breath and trust that you can do hard things – you have done hard things. If you are struggling to do this on your own, it is absolutely okay to access support and get some help with coping. 

You can find more advice and tips for navigating the NICU and beyond by following Frankie on Instagram or visiting www.miraclemoon.co.uk. You can read Frankie's story on our website here.