One thing that struck me throughout my nursing career was that looking after a sick baby meant looking after very very anxious parents. Understandably, when a tiny baby is unwell and then ends up in hospital, the parents are thrown into a whirlpool of emotion. At first they really don’t know what’s happening because often if the baby is quite unwell, the medical staff are completely focused on sorting him/her first. They fire questions at the parents and whilst they are acutely aware of the pain on their faces, they have to get the information they need to help the baby. There are administration staff popping in to get paperwork filled in, nurses bustling around sorting bloods, fluids, medications and filling in observation charts: all while the Doctors are poking and prodding their precious little baby. I’m surprised such fear doesn’t escalate til the heart just stops. I have been on both sides of the emergency room and it is terrifying.
When there was a new baby admitted to our ward I tried really hard to reassure the parents as soon as they arrived. One look at them told their story of a very long day or night in the children’s emergency. They looked deflated, like an airbed the morning after a restless night camping. I could tell they hadn’t slept a wink for days and probably hadn’t eaten, too scared to take their eyes from their sick baby. I imagined they were so relieved to finally be in the ward and before their eyes the poking and prodding starts all over again. Ward Doctors needed to admit the baby and blood ladies arrive again and nurses attach oxygen and fluids and and and………………the baby is crying and the parents dissolve – defeated, their hearts might not be able to take much more.
Amazingly, at this point in time, if a very kind, gentle person offers them reassurance and explains everything that is going on, they can be persuaded to follow that kind, gentle person out of their baby’s sight and enjoy a short but desperately needed cuppa and something to eat. It may only last 10 minutes but it is enough to witness something incredible. The second the distressed parents leave the room – the baby calms and goes to sleep – also incredibly exhausted. You see the baby feels the parents distress just as the parents feel their baby’s distress and the tension is palpable. When the baby can no-longer feel that in close proximity, he/she can calm and settle. One of the nurses always stayed until the parents returned. It was really helpful to explain the importance of trying to be calm and relaxed around their sick baby. The proof was there in front of their eyes. Their baby had settled and when he/she opened her eyes and saw Mum and Dad looking a bit calmer and feeling a bit calmer – they too relaxed and became CALM.
This is an extreme example but even on a day to day basis babies feel what their Mums and /Dads are feeling and reflect this back. If you can find any way to relax yourself – perhaps using music or walking or even having a nap when your baby naps – you will find your baby relaxing too.