When you are thrown into the whirlwind of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) experience, little else in your life will have seemed comparable. It can happen so fast that you don't even have time to think about how to deal with it and you may only react to each situation as it comes along.
Certainly, if at all possible, touring a NICU prior to the birth of your baby is preferable. If there is a reason to suspect your baby will be born early, this kind of introduction to the world of beeping machines can make it much easier if your baby ends up there. The technology that will keep your baby alive will seem less intimidating.
If there is no option of doing so, ask for a brief introduction to the NICU once you are there. If machines keep going off and frightening you, whether they belong to your baby or not, knowing what is happening will help ease your mind. It won't take away the anxiety you develop from hearing the alarms, but it will help you understand what they are all about.
If a particular baby seems to have complicated medical conditions and it bothers you to know that, ask the staff to reassure you that they are always nearby in case something serious were to happen. Premature babies in the NICU will range in age from 24 to 36 weeks gestation. The tinier babies, around one or two pounds, have the most difficulties and stay the longest in the nursery while their bodies mature enough to live on their own.
Making yourself as comfortable as possible in the NICU is also helpful to coping. If you like to read and you want to stay by your baby's side, have some casual reading available with you. It can help take your mind off the intense nature of the NICU and give you a mental break.
Speaking of breaks, you should not expect yourself to sit by your baby's side 24 hours a day. You would not do so at home and need not in NICU either. Especially, in a hospital, it is important to have breaks from the stress of seeing your precious baby encumbered by wires and machinery. The newborn routine in NICU consists of taking vital signs like temperature and respiration and monitoring their breathing for spells of apnea, when babies stop breathing. At home your life would consist of diaper changes and feedings and gazing into your baby's eyes. So don't be too hard on yourself and expect to be a martyr. This is a difficult time and you need to take good care of yourself so you can be there for your baby.
If you are pumping breast milk for your preemie, be sure you know the NICU routine and where to store the milk and how much and how often your baby is fed. You need to keep up with your baby's feeding needs, so keep the communication open with staff and your baby's doctors.