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Family Support

Feelings and Concerns

Families whose babies are small or very sick are under a great deal of pressure. You are worried about your child. You are talking to many different hospital staff members and hearing explanations of complicated medical facts about your baby. At the same time, you are trying to keep the rest of your family going, perhaps returning to a job, or trying to meet the needs of older children.

Every parent handles this situation differently. Feelings of sadness, numbness, anxiety, and anger during times like these are common and normal. You will have days when you feel very good and optimistic, and others when you feel overwhelmed by even the smallest things. We understand how very difficult it is for parents to have a baby and not be able to go home from the hospital together.

Many families have found that talking with West Penn’s NICU staff or with one another can help. The NICU staff is always ready to listen and help you. Religious support is also available upon request. Your feelings of anxiety will be helped by knowing that you are a vitally important part of your child’s care, even when all of the technology seems overwhelming. Remember, it is YOU that is the constant, loving presence in your child’s life!

Please contact your social worker or nurse for information about a parent support group. Parents may also find useful information from the Parents Resource Network, a non-profit organization that offers advice, tips, resources and support for parents. This includes the opportunity to talk with other parents who have had babies in the NICU.
You can visit www.parentsresourcenetwork.org to find out more.

Also, you should not feel guilty for leaving the NICU. It is very important to take care of yourself by getting adequate sleep, eating regular meals and taking some time away from the unit to relax.

The West Penn Hospital Cafeteria is open Monday-Friday during the following hours:
Breakfast – 6:15 to 9:30 a.m.
Continental Breakfast – 9:30 to 10:45 a.m.
Lunch – 10:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Afternoon Grill – 2 to 4 p.m.
Dinner – 4 to 7 p.m.
Evening Grill – 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Night Grill – 9:45 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

On weekends and holidays, the same schedule will apply (except for a brief closing period from 10-10:45 a.m.) until 7 p.m., when the cafeteria will close for the night and will re-open at 6:15 a.m. for breakfast.

Parental Involvement

It is important that your baby gets to know you. This can be done through gentle touching and softly talking to your baby. You will be encouraged to hold your baby. We understand that it can be scary to hold such a small baby who is connected to different machines; our nurses will help you become comfortable holding your baby and eliminate fears that you might “break” him or her. Bathing, diapering, and dressing are things you can do for your baby while in the NICU.

Premature infants, like all infants, need a balance of stimulation and rest to develop to their fullest potential. While interacting with your baby is encouraged, it is important to realize the NICU environment can also be excessively stimulating to your infant and that all babies need quiet, nonstimulating times to “organize” what they have learned. We try to assist you in learning to read your baby’s special cues, so that you too will soon know how to interpret your baby’s individual developmental needs. We would like you to feed your baby as often as you can while your baby is hospitalized. Feedings have to be adjusted to each baby’s individual needs. Some progress very slowly with feedings. If your baby is being fed by a feeding tube, you may offer a pacifier to satisfy the natural need to suck. Whether your baby is being fed by bottle, breast or feeding tube, the nurses at West Penn are here to help you.

Always remember that your love, care, presence, and touch are vitally important to your child’s care and are as necessary as the IVs, monitors, and other equipment that surround your baby. While the role you play in helping your baby is different than that of the doctors and nurses, it is no less important. You observe your baby from a different perspective and your observations and input help to guide your child’s overall care. Because of this, we encourage you to share this input so that we can form an effective partnership. Every day, all members of the West Penn team discuss your baby’s progress and make plans regarding his or her care. These “rounds” usually take place every morning. We encourage you to come to these discussions to share your observations, ask questions and better understand all of the issues surrounding your child’s care.

Remember that the more you understand about your baby, the better job you can do in meeting his or her needs. Ask questions, but also share your thoughts because this will make us better partners. Remember, too, that there is a doctor present in the hospital 24 hours a day, but they may not be right by your baby’s bed when you come in. If for some reason you have not spoken to a doctor for the last day or two, ask your baby’s nurse what doctor is on call so they can speak to you.


West Penn Hospital encourages breastfeeding, especially in the NICU. If your baby was born pre-term, the provision of breast milk can reduce the risk of developing severe and life-threatening intestinal problems. Mothers who choose to breastfeed their infant should notify the nursing staff as soon as possible. If you are a patient at West Penn Hospital, the nurses in the Family Centered Care Unit will assist you with an electric breast pump. If your infant is transferred to West Penn Hospital and you remain at one of the referral hospitals, ask the nursing staff there to assist you with milk expression. There are two breastfeeding rooms in the NICU, equipped with electric pumps for your convenience. The NICU staff will provide you with some bottles for storage of your expressed breast milk.

During the first two to three weeks, it is important to maintain a regular pumping schedule every 2 to 3 hours, approximately 8-10 times per 24 hours. One of those sessions should occur throughout the night. At first, you will be pumping for stimulation, not volume. You may only express a few drops at first. This substance is called colostrum and contains important nutrients and antibodies for your baby. Under normal conditions, your milk should “come in” on the second to fourth day after delivery, but stress or anxiety may delay it. Remember to eat a balanced diet, drink when thirsty, and continue taking your prenatal vitamins.

A double pump kit and hospital-grade breast pump should be used for long-term breast pumping. The NICU staff will instruct you on assembly, cleaning, and storing of the kit. Expressed milk can be stored in glass or plastic containers in the refrigerator for 24 hours before use, or frozen and thawed for later use. Frozen milk may remain in the deep freezer for 6 months. Once thawed, breast milk may be kept in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Please use one container for each pumping session and date and label each container with your infant’s name. It is important for a successful breastfeeding experience to maintain your milk supply at home by pumping your breasts every 2 to 3 hours with an electric pump. These pumps may be rented or purchased. If you are eligible, WIC has a limited number of small electric pumps to borrow. The West Penn Lactation Center has hospital-grade pumps you can rent, or the NICU staff will gladly assist you in finding a rental station closer to your home.

Where to turn for help and support:
Although the benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, some women may experience difficulties or frustration. The following services are available for support.

  1. WPH Lactation Center, Childbirth Educator, 412.578.7271 or 412.578.7030
  2. The Western Pennsylvania Hospital, NICU, 412.578.5306
  3. Allegheny County Breast Feeding Helpline, 412.247.1000 (8 a.m. to 10 p.m., including weekends and holidays)
  4. Lactation Consultant, NICU, 412.578.5326
  5. LaLeche League, 412.276.5630
  6. Medela Breast Pump Rental, 800.435.8316
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