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Neonatologist Susan Landers, MD Shares Tips For Expectant Parents When Babies Needs the NICU

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More than half a million parents have babies that are born premature, a multiple or another critical scenario when admitted to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Having a baby spend the early part of their life in the NICU seems frightening to most parents and can be a traumatic experience when confronted with life and death choices for their babies. The book, So Many Babies is written by Neonatologist and NICU expert Susan Landers, MD, which thoroughly prepares expectant parents on what to expect if their baby goes to NICU. Dr. Landers explains in detail what parents should expect to see, witness, experience and what to ask the doctors while their child is there. So Many Babies is the most informative NICU doctor to parent book written on the subject of neonatal medicine and high-risk obstetrics. It’s an extraordinary book that should be read by every expectant parent.

Dr. Landers sat down with the California Herald today to talk about her new book, So Many Babies: My Life Balancing a Busy Medical Career & Motherhood giving tips that expectant parents need to know about the NICU:

What is your book about and why did you write it?

“So Many Babies” is about my 30-year-practice as a neonatologist taking care of sick babies in the NICU. My book relates stories about some incredibly special patients – some premature, some multiples, some born with severe birth defects, and their parents – each of whom them touched me in profound ways. My book relates stories of my learning how to be a good enough mother raising three children of my own while practicing full time. My hope is that my motherhood journey will be reassuring to other working mothers. 

What was it like to work in the NICU?

Working in the NICU often felt like working in a whirlwind. It was always exciting, and usually extremely rewarding. Watching babies respond positively to new technologies and treatments was gratifying. However, watching babies die despite full support was heartbreaking, and sometimes felt defeating.  Sometimes the NICU was incredibly stressful, especially in life and death situations, or challenging ethical cases. Sometimes it was a tragic and the NICU was a difficult place to work, especially while experiencing the suffering of some of the sickest babies and their parents.  Sometimes the NICU environment was noisy and almost nerve wracking, and other times it was quiet, calm, and subdued. There were always surprises and I enjoyed being part of a NICU team that was ready for anything, even quadruplets on a Sunday evening.

What is the most important information you want parents to come away with from reading your book?

I want parents to realize that the NICU experience is scary initially, sometimes traumatic, but in the end, it builds strength and character. Delivering a sick or preterm baby who requires NICU care is a shock to most parents, and it takes some number of days to adjust to where your baby is and to all the equipment and treatment that he or she needs.

It is normal for most NICU parents to feel overwhelmed initially, but most adjust to having a baby in the hospital, become comfortable with asking questions, driving back and forth, visiting, and planning. Parents who are present as often as possible, touching, holding and reading to their babies, tend to connect more securely with their sick infant. NICU moms who pump or express their breastmilk for their infant give a enormous gift to their baby, one that improves their baby’s outcome, and one which no doctor or nurse can give.

My stories were intended to inspire others with the courage and attentiveness that my favorite NICU parents displayed over the many weeks and months of their child’s stay. The parents that I describe in my book were curious, asked lots of questions, and developed good relationships with their baby’s nurses. They reached out for help when they needed it, were honest with caregivers, and generally took advice from the care team.

What are some of the tips about the NICU that no one tells parents, but you wish they knew?

Most NICU moms feel guilt after the birth of a sick or preterm baby. However, preterm birth is most often unexplained. Although there are some medical conditions that precipitate it, like preeclampsia or diabetes, most often we do not know why mothers deliver a preterm baby or a baby with a birth defect. I want to reassure NICU moms that their baby’s condition is not their fault.

I want parents to know that having a baby in the NICU will be the most stressful period they will experience as a couple, and as parents. If the parents work together, the experience can make their marriage or partnership stronger.

Parents who must endure a longer NICU stay need to take care of themselves along the way. They need to let others cook and clean for them, let others drive them to the hospital and run errands for them. They might try to enjoy one night out each week, like a date night, to stay grounded to each other and maintain their relationship. 

Getting to know and talk with other NICU parents is helpful, and there are parent support groups that meet in some hospitals. In addition, there are good Instagram and Facebook NICU-parent-support groups.

Most parents are tougher than they think they are, and I want them to know that even though having a baby in the NICU is hard, they will grow during the experience.

While the book was extremely informative, I found some of the information in the book to potentially be terrifying to expectant parents. Is it really necessary for parents to be told the ENTIRE truth about what to expect in the NICU?

No, it is not necessary for parents to be told everything that can go wrong after delivery. If we did that, no one would want to chance having a baby. Remember that ninety percent of births are healthy full-term babies. Only ten percent of births are preterm, and eight percent are low birth weight. Another three percent of babies are born with a major birth defect. The NICU exists for these babies and for the unfortunate full-term babies that develop infection or illness after birth. Most babies do not need NICU care.

With good prenatal care, parents become aware of any condition for which they must be prepared. A meeting with a neonatologist before the delivery of a baby with a severe birth defect or extreme prematurity can reassure parents, inform them what to expect, and answer their questions. Once their baby is in the NICU receiving care, most parents prefer to “know what is going on.” They want to understand what chances their baby has, and they want honest answers (to the extent that we can predict those). Oftentimes, we cannot foresee outcomes accurately, and that frustrates some parents. 

I did not write this book to scare potential parents. I wrote this book to portray an accurate picture of my life caring for babies in the NICU, my attachments to my patients and their family, and my struggles balancing work and motherhood.

Connect with Susan Landers, MD directly at https://susanlandersmd.com/

Purchase So Many Babies at https://www.amazon.com/So-Many-Babies-Balancing-Motherhood-ebook/dp/B091MX11TG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1619459890&sr=8-1

With experience as a full-time environmentalist and part time journalist, Lisa heads the post of editor at California Herald. She covers all the significant proceedings in the world of Environment while editing all the news pieces posted over the website to ensure everything aligns with the journalistic format.

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