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5 Simple Steps to Fight Depression With a Baby in the NICU

5 Simple Steps to Fight Depression With a Baby in the NICU

You’ve been preparing and planning for months, even years. After enduring the excitement of labor and birth, you are now separated from your beautiful new baby so they can receive intensive medical care. You may be grateful for advancements in medicine which allow this incredible baby to thrive in a safe environment. You may be saddened to miss many of your baby’s first moments. You may be angry that you and your baby have to be separated in this way for an unknown amount of time. You may be thrilled that your sweet baby is alive and fighting to get home to you and your growing family.

It’s Stressful to Have a NICU Baby

Having a baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) is an often difficult and stressful time. Regardless of whether you knew that your baby was going to be in the NICU, the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. Nobody told you it was going to be this hard.

This isn’t what you expected. You wanted to bring your baby home, but now you have to look at an empty bassinet. A part of you was left behind when you walked out of those hospital doors without your baby.  What do you do with an empty nursery?


Stress and anxiety are common feelings for NICU parents — but so are other emotions that may not be as easy to explain or understand. Some new moms struggle to bond with their preemies. Especially if they have a traumatic birth or are unable to hold or nurse their premature baby right away. This can lead to feelings of depression, guilt and withdrawal. This may even impact their ability to care for their child once they leave the hospital.

Consider these common statements we hear from NICU parents:

This is harder than we’re letting on.

The NICU is a scary place. 

We don’t know when we’re coming home.

We may not ask for help, but we could use it.

We may not want to talk about it.

Leaving our baby is heartbreaking.

Our emotions are running wild.

It might not hit us right away. 

Things might never be the same.

It changes our perspective on parenting.

….Do these sound and feel familiar?


Many parents also report that they feel helpless while their newborn is in the NICU.  It might even take a few months after bringing your baby home to feel like you have a little bit of breathing room.  Once things have started to settle down, your emotions may begin to feel out of control again. No matter where you are in this process, you have support and options for respite.

What can I do to avoid depression while my baby is still in the hospital?

A picture of an empty baby's room because the baby is in the NICU. Therapy can help NICU moms avoid postpartum depression. We provide postpartum support in Northern Virginia.While your infant is still in the NICU it can feel like your options for self care are very limited. Your emotions seem overwhelming sometimes, and then in other moments you’re able to just shove them down and fall into problem solving/caregiving mode. Much of your life feels out of your control. Your schedule is dictated by doctors rounds, shift changes, and whatever schedule has been set to meet your baby’s medical needs. Maybe you also have outside responsibilities including other children who need your attention/care and work to balance. It’s easy to see how caring for your own needs and emotions can fall by the wayside. The problem is that when you don’t take the time to care for yourself during these stressful periods of your life, you become more susceptible to postpartum depression.


The good news? There are simple steps you can take right now to help guard yourself against depression when you have a baby in the NICU. We like to call this “NESTS”, as it is critical for all postpartum parents to create a nest-like environment to rest, recover and re-energize after the arrival of the new baby.


Nutrition –

Take the best possible care of your body by eating nutritious foods throughout the day. Fast food and snacks might be easy for on-the-go, but if you can focus on high fiber, high protein foods that are easy to digest, your body will have the fuel it needs to make it through those long days and nights. Be sure to hydrate with plenty of water, too!

Exercise –

Of course, a postpartum body needs to reset and heal. When you are physically ready, consider incorporating a few minutes of movement into your daily routine. Exercise releases endorphins to help lift your mood and adrenaline to boost your energy more than that 5th cup of coffee for the day. Find a place, even around the hospital grounds, that you can get at least 10 minutes of movement each day.

Sleep and Rest –

A new mom stretching after a good night of rest. Learn how to fight postpartum depression while your baby is in the NICU from a maternal mental health therapist in Northern VirginiaOne of the best protective factors against postpartum depression and anxiety is quality sleep. Our sleep and rest habits will impact our physical and mental health in remarkable ways. Prioritize sleep while your baby is being loved for and looked after during this time. That way, you are able to be more fully present for your baby when they come home.

Time for Yourself –

Self care is NOT selfish. This season of life is stressful and ensuring that you are fulfilled and sustained is a requirement in order to be the best possible parent for your sweet child. Read a book, take a walk, take a bath, get a special treat, let someone pamper you, allow yourself to be immersed in a movie for a bit, whatever helps you feel more “normal” can be restorative.

Support –

Finally, let those friends, family and other sources of social support do what they do best! People want to help you during this time, but they do not always know how. (Sending this post could be a great start!) Our “village” can offer practical support with meals and running errands, and others can provide emotional support in the form of a shoulder to cry on, a person to text in the middle of the night and even some comic relief to lighten the heavy moments. Your NICU nursing staff and/or hospital Social Worker should be able to refer you to parent groups and other resources, as well.

Counseling for Postpartum Concerns & NICU Stress in Northern Virginia

Whether or not you were prepared to have a baby in the NICU, it can be helpful to talk with a mental health professional and have the support of a therapist who can guide you through this non-traditional postpartum experience.

If you or a loved one is interested in postpartum counseling, the caring therapists of Postpartum Wellness are here to support you. Our McLean, VA women’s counseling center has skilled therapists who specialize in counseling for women and parents of NICU babies during the post natal period. We serve clients in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC area.

Beginning Counseling at Postpartum Wellness

It may feel like a giant step to reach out and ask for help, but we make the process as easy as possible. To begin counseling for any postpartum concern, just follow these steps:

  1. Contact Postpartum Wellness to schedule an intake counseling session
  2. Meet with a caring therapist
  3. Begin the journey toward a more joyful postpartum season

A mom's hand holding a tiny baby's hand in the NICU. Our therapists can help NICU moms in Northern Virginia practice self care and avoid postpartum depression.

Having a baby in the NICU is not an easy journey, no matter how it happens. You deserve support through this process and we can help.

Other Mental Health Services for Women & Parents

At our Northern Virginia counseling offices, we help all women live happy, healthy lives. Our skilled therapists care about what matters most to you. We offer a variety of services. Including counseling for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety treatment, and supportive counseling during infertility. We also help women find healing after traumatic births as well as helping moms on bed rest or who are stressed during a high-risk pregnancy. You are not alone in this journey. Contact us today to begin counseling and move toward healing.



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