Nestled safely in their homes, babies often fall asleep to lullabies about twinkling stars and jumping sheep. In a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), babies fall asleep to steady beeps from monitors and whispered conversations between parents and caregivers.
As a NICU nurse, I have the privilege of caring for babies who seem to spend most of their days resting peacefully. But I know better. Those tiny bodies are not at rest; their little lungs, hearts and muscles are actively fighting very tough battles.
With each sleepy smile, where have their young, imaginative minds taken them?
My own dreams are filled with thoughts of “my babies” leading long, prosperous lives and accomplishing great things. I like to think that I’ve cared for the next President of the United States, the scientist who’s going to help cure cancer, a Top Chef, an astronaut, an Olympic gold medalist and dozens of teachers, firemen and fellow nurses. I always think big because, as evidenced by the size of the fight in their tiny bodies, these little ones have big things in store for the world.
When our babies leave the hospital, the next chapter in their future is written by their parents. And that chapter begins with safe sleeping. As caregivers, we do all we can to educate families about why babies need to sleep alone on their backs and without blankets, stuffed animals or bumpers in their cribs. Because when those little eyelids get heavy and it’s time for sleep, the future of these presidents, astronauts and Olympians is left in the hands of those tucking them in.
Visit our Safe Sleep hub to find tips for keeping your baby safe through all of his dreamy adventures. About the photos: We photographed our big dreamers in the NICU at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Aug. 29, 2014. Each of these little ones came into the world between 25 and 37 weeks gestation with legs barely thicker than a pencil. They've already earned nicknames: Future Doctor is "Wild One" and Future Gymnast is "Squirmy." As of Oct. 6, 2014, Future Astronaut is home with his family, and the others continue to dream with us in the NICU.