Louise Flanagan (Mum to Ryan, Kent, Surrey and Sussex parent advisory group member ) shares some advice about being a parent on the neonatal unit.

Talk to the other parents

No one will really understand what you’re going through unless they have also been through a neonatal journey. That’s why it’s so beneficial to talk to other parents on the unit. You can bring some joy and support to each other. You may even make friends for life. 


Sometimes you just have to cry, and this is one experience where that’s definitely true. Don’t hold it in. You’ll see plenty of tears on a neonatal unit and they’ll be no judgement.

Be kind to those you’re in a relationship with

You’ll also see arguments on a neonatal unit, even about very silly things. It’s impossible not to argue with the ones you’re closest to in such difficult circumstances, but just remember what’s driving it and be kind to each other too.

Don’t worry about replying to messages

You’re likely to be inundated with messages from friends and family. Don’t feel pressured to reply to them if you don’t have time, and don’t feel guilty. They’ll understand. To ease pressure, you could make agreements with some closer family and friends to only message just once a day, or once a week. Life can be surprisingly busy on a neonatal unit; you shouldn’t feel you have to use your time with your baby to be on your phone.

Have boundaries with visitors

It can be wonderful to have people visit you at the hospital, but it can also be very difficult and stressful. It could be a day when things aren’t going well, or things need to happen while they’re there; such as expressing milk or a medical procedure. You may also be anxious about having visitors near your baby. Be honest with visitors; if they care about you, they’ll understand. Set boundaries that make you feel comfortable, for example if you don’t want people to hold your baby, explain to them. You know what’s best for you and your child. 

Take time for yourself

This will be difficult, but if you aim for just 10 or 15 minutes a day to do something on your own to make you feel better then that’s something. Have a shower, lay down, listen to a song. It’s also a good idea to take regular breaks away from the unit even if this is just to go outside for some fresh air or to grab a hot drink. It’s always good to step away briefly and remember, your baby is in good hands.

Also remember the basics: Eat, drink and sleep. These are so important, especially if you’re expressing milk, but so easily sacrificed too. You might even find it helpful to have a bit of a routine or schedule to make sure you make time for these things. 

Be proud of any milk you produce

If you’ve chosen to express or breastfeed, remember expressing and breastfeeding isn’t easy in the best of situations. All the stress and anxiety this journey creates makes it much harder, especially as you don’t have the same contact with your baby as you would at home. You can only do your best and every drop of milk you produce for your baby is an achievement. 

Enjoy special moments

There are plenty of happy times on a neonatal unit. Your baby might smile for the first time in neonatal care. They may have their first bath on the unit. You’ll always remember your first cuddle and there are plenty of other special moments to share during this journey, especially as your baby grows stronger. Laugh, smile, and treasure them. They are part of your story. 

You may also wish to keep a diary. This won’t be for everyone but can be helpful. It’s also a nice keepsake of your family’s journey. 

Sing and read to your baby

Nurses on the units will usually encourage this. It helps with your baby’s development in so many ways, but also just really helps to form a bond between the two of you and makes the time on the unit more enjoyable. There are usually books available on the unit. And song wise… your baby won’t mind what you sing. 

Don’t Google things

Most doctors and nurses will encourage you to participate in the doctor’s rounds. If you have questions or concerns do not be afraid to speak up. You are your child’s representative, and you know them best. Information you have and want to share might be beneficial. 

It’s also important to ask the medical team if you have any questions rather than using Google. Google can give misinformation that might only lead to anxiety.