Medications after the NICU

Many babies go home from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on medication for apnea, reflux or respiratory problems. Apnea is a periodic interruption of breathing. With reflux, whatever is in the stomach sometimes backs up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.

You will learn to give your baby her medication before she leaves the hospital. Write down all the instructions and make sure you know:

  • How often to give the medication
  • If it should be given before, during or after feedings, or if it doesn't matter (some medications can be mixed with formula)
  • How much to give
  • How to give it
  • If the medication needs to be mixed or kept cold
  • What position the baby should be in
  • What to do if the baby spits up or vomits the medication
  • What to do if you miss a dose
  • Where to get the medication
  • If there are any side effects you should watch for
  • When to stop giving the medication
  • Whether the dose needs to increase as the baby grows
  • If your baby needs more than one medication, whether they can be given together or if you need to wait between doses

Keep a daily written schedule that helps you keep track of when you give the medicine, how much you give, and if there are any problems. Without a schedule, it's easy to forget if you've given your baby her medicine.

Often parents have all the information when they leave the hospital. But then they have questions when they get home. Don't be embarrassed to call your baby's health care provider if you have questions. It's important that you understand exactly what to do.

Many parents find that giving medications is a hassle. Often the baby is fussy and uncooperative. Try to make giving your baby her medication a daily habit, just like feedings and diaper changes.

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August 2009

Most common questions

How do I calculate adjusted age for preemies?

Chronological age is the age of a baby from the day of birth. Adjusted age is the age of the baby based on his due date. To calculate adjusted age, take your baby's chronological age (for example, 20 weeks) and subtract the number of weeks premature the baby was (6 weeks). This baby's adjusted age (20 - 6) is 14 weeks. Health care providers may use this age when they evaluate the baby's growth and development. Most premature babies catch up to their peers developmentally in 2 to 3 years. After that, differences in size or development are most likely due to individual differences, rather than to premature birth. Some very small babies take longer to catch up.

Is it OK to invite people over after leaving the NICU?

Babies who've been in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) are often at higher risk of getting an infection than other babies. Be careful where you take the baby and who comes to visit her. But you don't need to stay in your house alone for the first months after your baby comes home.

If you do have visitors, make sure they wash their hands before touching the baby. Also, don't let adults or children who are sick, have a fever or have been exposed to an illness near her. Lastly, ask visitors not to smoke in your house.

My baby has developmental delays. Where can I find help?

Some babies leave the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) just fine while others may have developmental delays. The earlier these delays are identified and treated, the more likely your baby will be able to reach his potential later in life. Most NICU babies will be evaluated before leaving the NICU to see their strengths and any areas that can be improved. If you think your baby has developmental delays, talk to his health care provider about where to find early intervention services. Contact state and local programs for help.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).