Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE
Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

October 6, 2021

Supporting NICU Moms

E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker

What You'll Learn

  • One Mom’s NICU Experience
  • Immediately Bonding With A NICU Baby Versus A Healthy Baby
  • Successive NICU Experiences Can Differ
  • The Best Ways To Support A NICU Mom
  • When  A NICU Mom Should Seek Help

Pregnancy, labor, and delivery are hard enough. But having a baby in NICU is terrifying and can be traumatic. Kristin Reinhart is a social worker and perinatal mental health specialist with 15 years of experience. More importantly, she’s a mom who survived 2 NICU experiences. She’s here to share her experience, how to know when you need help, and how to help a NICU mom.

One Mom’s NICU Experience

After a pregnancy free of complications and a full term delivery, NICU was a shock for Kristin, and she didn’t trust anyone with the baby, even herself. “There was a lack of trust within myself to parent and to be a mom,” Kristin said. 

1 in 5 moms experience postpartum depression or anxiety. Mood disorders are the most common birth complication, and having a baby in the NICU skews that because it can be such a scary experience. 

“In terms of parent care in the NICU, there really wasn’t any in it,” Kristin said. There is such a transition during delivery, and we’re also healing physically. Kristin was aware her daughters needed acute care, but she was recovering too and didn’t get the check-ins.

“You’re in survival in those days and when you go home and transition out of the NICU, your body doesn’t know the difference between a perceived threat and a real threat,” she explained. If your baby is still medically fragile after returning home from NICU, the threat may be real. 

For Kristin, this wasn’t the case and even as a mental health professional, she went into isolation mode, because she didn’t know how to ask for the help she needed. “No one parents these mothers who are going through such an isolating experience. I think there is a lot of room for work around that,” she said.

Medical staff come in and out of your hospital room while you’re recovering after birth, so returning home with Baby might be the first quiet time we have to process the entire NICU experience. Being home and not feeling safe can be more traumatic than the hospital stay itself. 

Being home with the baby and not feeling safe can feel almost more traumatic than the hospital stay itself.

That quiet time at home also gives our brains the opportunity to run through how bad things were and every possible scenario and just how bad things could have been. This can be very anxiety producing. We may find ourselves hypervigilant and  checking on baby, or we may not want to check on and may possibly even avoid baby because we don’t trust ourselves..  

It’s really common in trauma to look for things we could have done differently. That’s our brain trying to make something logical out of something that wasn’t logical. We have to learn to accept the trauma to work through it, and that often requires working with a therapist. Kristin and I both do this kind of work, so if you’re struggling reach out.

Immediately Bonding With A NICU Baby Versus A Healthy Baby

A lot of moms feel guilt or shame if they don’t immediately bond with their baby, but there are a couple of reasons this happens. We have a romanticized view of meeting a newborn. Think about every movie or TV show you’ve seen where someone has a baby. Mom is smiling and basked in a bright glowing light—real hospital rooms don’t come equipped with stage lights to show your best angle—and she’s handed a clean, cuddly, smiling newborn wrapped in a gender stereotypical blanket. (Newborns also don’t smile.)

In the real world, Mom may have gone through hours of physical trauma. The baby cries before she’s had a chance to recover, and it may have been a day or two since Mom has eaten or slept. It’s not that she doesn’t care about the baby. She’s just a whole person who is suffering physically, may have had a traumatic birth—and likely some amount of pain—and needs time to recover.

You have no idea what’s going to happen.

But it’s also really scary to bond with a baby in the NICU. You have no idea what’s going to happen. There can be an overwhelming sense of dread. “What happens if I get attached to this baby, and they don’t survive? No mom wants to endure that.

“I was still recovering in the maternal ward while my baby was in the NICU. They were in separate areas of the hospital, and when the nurses would call me to go visit my baby, I would decline because there was such a fear of walking in there and what I might see,” Kristin said. “I didn’t want to bond with my baby, because I was so afraid I might lose her.” 

“Your body was shutting down, because you were working so hard to survive that,” Kristin explained. It’s a trauma response. Your body thinks if it can keep you from bonding, it won’t be as bad if you lose that baby. 

And after a NICU experience, it can be really hard to trust that your child is going to be okay. “I see so much room to incorporate mindfulness and compassion work right in the NICU,” Kristin said. “I would like to see it move in that direction.”

Successive NICU Experiences Can Differ 

“I know there was a heightened sense of anxiety going into the second pregnancy,” she said. She needed reassurance in the form of checking the heartbeat or extra sonograms. Her support system tried to rally behind her but didn’t understand why she needed so much reassurance.

But after a NICU experience, it’s not uncommon to be worried about the baby and pregnancy the second time around. Once you’ve been through a traumatic situation, your body recognizes it and wants to protect you.

The Best Ways To Support A NICU Mom

“It’s hard to know what you need for support,” Kristin said. Of course, this makes it hard for your friends and family to know how to support you. If you’re supporting a NICU mom, it’s important to remember you don’t need to fix it. It’s enough to just be there.

It’s enough to just be there.

“It’s really about having that mom and that family know that you’re there. We don’t need anyone to fix anything. We just need them there,” she explained. Asking a mom what she needs shifts more burden on her. 

Some things I like to do for mom friends who just had a baby are randomly drop off food or an UberEats card, or if you have the means, a housecleaner. There are lots of creative, practical ways to support our friends. One of the things Kristin remembers the most from her NICU experience was a friend dropping off a bottle of water, because she didn’t want to leave the NICU to get something to drink.

When A NICU Mom Should Seek Help

We tend to compare our experiences to others and think “Well, my experience wasn’t as bad as hers,” but it doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to be in a crisis situation to get help. Talking to someone and getting education on how your body responds to trauma could be helpful in preventing a crisis situation.

We don’t have to experience PTSD to get help. If you’re having flashbacks to NICU experience, avoiding doctors and well baby checkups, if you’re having trouble sleeping, feeling easily triggered, or struggling to bond with baby, it’s okay to get help. Because these aren’t normal adjustments to parenthood. 

If you’re struggling to adjust to motherhood, reach out. We’re here to help!

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

NICU Moms

Stage:

Postpartum

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker

Kristin Reinhart is a Registered Social Worker and a Master’s Level Therapist (qualifying). She is also certified in Eye Movement Integration (EMI) therapy. She has been working in the field of mental health since 2006. She developed a passion for perinatal mental health after a lived Neonatal Intensive Care experience following the birth of both of her daughters. It was through this experience she became acutely aware of the need for adequate and timely support and resources for women during the perinatal period. She also enjoys and takes great value in volunteering as a coordinator with PSI, where she offers peer support, information, resources, referrals & a sense of hope to families.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
June 5, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
June 5, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
June 5, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
June 5, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 15, 2021
The Pressure to Get It Right
E:
99
with
Dr. Jen Douglas
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 24, 2021
Overcoming Gender Disappointment
E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 17, 2021
Adding a Sibling to Your Family
E:
95
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
November 10, 2021
Regulating Your Nervous System
E:
94
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
October 6, 2021
Supporting NICU Moms
E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
September 8, 2021
Caring for the Postpartum Brain
E:
85
with
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Neuroanatomist
February 20, 2024
August 18, 2021
Is Breastfeeding Worth Our Mental Health?
E:
82
with
Johanna Phillips
Maternal Mental Health Specialist
February 20, 2024
August 11, 2021
Exploring Mommy Wine Culture
E:
81
with
Michelle Smith
Addictions Counselor
February 20, 2024
July 28, 2021
When Treatment Becomes Trauma
E:
79
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
July 21, 2021
PMS or Something More?
E:
78
with
Dr. Nichelle Haynes
Perinatal Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
June 23, 2021
The Self-Compassionate Mother
E:
74
with
Dr. Kristin Neff
Associate Professor and Author