Getting ready to go home from the NICU

KEY POINTS

  • Spend time taking care of your baby when she’s in the NICU so you feel ready to take care of her when she’s home.

  • If you can, room in with your baby in the NICU before she’s discharged to get used to taking care of her on your own.

  • Learn how to use medical equipment or give your baby medicine before you take her home.

  • Choose your baby’s health care provider before she’s discharged from the NICU.

How can you get ready to take your baby home from the NICU?

You’ve got a lot to do and learn as your baby’s discharged from the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU) gets closer. Discharge means your baby is released from hospital care and you can take him home. 

To get ready for discharge, talk to your partner, your baby’s health care provider and the NICU staff about caring for your baby at home. Here are some things to talk about:

  • Do you have everything you need at home to take care of your baby? Do you have medicine and equipment your baby needs? Do you know how to give your baby medicine and use the equipment?
  • What do you want the discharge day to be like? Do you want family or friends to be there when you and your baby get home? Or do you want it to be just you and your partner with your baby?
  • Are there any videos, classes, booklets or apps that may help you learn how to take care of your baby at home? 

Many hospitals let parents "room in" with their baby for a night or two before discharge. This can be a good way to practice taking care of your baby on your own while the NICU staff is still right there to help.  You or your partner or both of you can room in with your baby and take charge of his care.

Ask the NICU staff about going to a discharge class before you take your baby home. A discharge class is a class for NICU families about things like:

  • Basic baby care
  • Safe sleep for your baby
  • Using a car seat safely
  • Giving your baby medicine
  • Follow-up care for your baby. Follow-up care is medical care your baby gets after he’s discharged from the hospital. 

You also may want to go to a CPR class. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s what you do to help someone who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped beating. Going to CPR and discharge classes may make you feel more comfortable taking care of your baby at home.

What do you need to do if your baby’s going home from the NICU on medical equipment? 

Before your baby’s discharged from the NICU, talk to her providers about medical equipment your baby needs when she gets home. Your case manager can help order equipment and schedule training sessions for you to learn how to use it. Your case manager also can help you arrange for in-home nursing care if your baby needs it. This is when a nurse comes to your home to care for your baby.  

Here’s what you can do to help you feel ready to use your baby’s medical equipment:

  • Learn how to use the equipment when your baby’s still in the NICU. For example, if your baby has a tracheostomy tube or a gastrostomy tube, clean and care for your baby’s skin and the tube with your baby’s providers until you feel comfortable doing it on your own. A tracheostomy tube (also called trach) is a breathing tube that is put into a baby’s windpipe through a hole in his neck. A gastrostomy tube (also g-tube) is a feeding tube that goes directly into his stomach. Rooming in with your baby gives you good practice at using your baby’s medical equipment. 
  • Get your home organized. For example, you may want to move your baby’s bedroom to the main floor to make caring for him easier. Put all your baby’s medical supplies in a cabinet or drawer in the kitchen and label it so everyone knows where the supplies are. Use things like shower caddies, shoe organizers that hook on a door or plastic bins to organize medical equipment. Your case manager at the hospital can help you plan to get your home ready.  
  • Make sure the electricity in your home works with your baby’s equipment. If you have an older home or your baby needs more than one kind of equipment, you may need to update your electric system. An electrician or someone from the equipment company can come to your home to check your system. If you rent your home, talk with your landlord about what you need. 

What tests does your baby need before she goes home from the NICU?

Before your baby goes home from the NICU, she may have a few tests to check her overall health. For example, she may get a blood test or a hearing test. Your baby also may get a car seat test. For this test, her provider sits your baby in a car seat and checks her heart and breathing to make sure she’s safe in a seated position. 

What can you expect on discharge day?

Your baby’s provider meets with you before you take your baby home from the NICU. At this meeting, ask any questions you have about your baby’s care. Before you leave the hospital, get a copy of your baby’s discharge summary from one of your baby’s providers. This is a report about your baby’s treatment in the NICU. It also tells you what follow-up care he needs. You can share the report with other providers your baby sees after the NICU. 

Does your baby need follow-up care after discharge from the NICU?

Yes. You may have chosen a health care provider for your baby before he was born. If your baby was born early, you may not have had a chance to find a provider. Be sure to choose a provider who has taken care of babies with the same condition as your baby.

Many kinds of providers take care of babies and children. You can choose a:

  • Pediatrician. This is a doctor who has special training to take care of babies and children. To find a pediatrician for your baby, got to aap.org.
  • Family practice doctor (also called a family physician). This is a doctor who provides care for every member of a family. A family practice doctor can be your health care provider before, during and after pregnancy, and he can be your baby's doctor, too. To find a family practice doctor for your baby, go to familydoctor.org.
  • Nurse practitioner (also called NP). This is a registered nurse with advanced medical education and training. Family nurse practitioners and pediatric nurse practitioners can take care of babies and children. To find an NP to care for your baby, go to npfinder.com.

If your baby has special medical needs, you may need a provider who has experience caring for children with your baby’s condition. The NICU staff, hospital social worker or case manager can help you find one. A social worker has special training to help people solve problems and make their lives better.

Last reviewed: June, 2017

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