Home after the NICU

KEY POINTS

  • You may have lots of feelings as you learn to take care of your baby after the NICU. It’s OK to be nervous about caring for your baby at home.

  • If you have questions about your baby’s health or care, ask your baby’s health care provider. Take your baby to all his well-child checkups.

  • Always put your baby on her back to sleep in her own crib or bassinet. Keep blankets and toys out of the crib. Don’t co-sleep with your baby.

  • If you need child care for your baby, make sure the child care provider can take care of your baby’s medical needs, if any. 

  • Talk to your baby’s health care provider about vaccinations and treatments your baby needs before starting child care.

What kind of feelings can you expect after your baby comes home from the NICU?

It can be hard to get used to being at home with your baby after a stay in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU). You and your partner may have lots of different feelings about caring for your baby outside the hospital. For example, you may feel:

  • Excited to bring your baby home
  • Scared that your baby will get sick again
  • Nervous to go out in public with your baby or let other people take care of her
  • Happy to not be at the hospital but lonely at home
  • That no one understands how hard this has been for you
  • Like you’re a different person after the NICU stay and missing your old life
  • Guilty and sad because your baby was in the NICU

It’s OK to have lots of different thoughts and feelings about caring for your baby at home. Your partner may have feelings that are different from yours. And your feelings may change as you learn more about your baby and how to care for her. It’s a journey for your whole family.

Here are some things you can do to help you adjust to life at home with your baby: 

  • When you have questions about your baby or your baby’s care, call your baby’s provider. It’s OK to call and ask questions.
  • Take your baby to all his well-baby visits. These are medical checkups that let your baby’s provider check your baby’s health and development to make sure things are going well outside the NICU. Knowing that your baby is healthy can help you feel comfortable and confident about caring for your baby at home. Take your baby to all his well-baby checkups, even if you think he’s fine. If your baby needs special care for a health condition, don’t skip these visits.
  • Ask family members, friends and neighbors for help you at home. Tell them exactly what you need them to do. For example, tell them if you need help with the laundry or running errands or taking care of your other children.
  • Visit shareyourstory.org to connect with other families who are caring for a baby during and after a NICU stay.

What can you do to keep your baby healthy at home?

It’s OK to invite people to your home and take your baby outside your home after the NICU. But babies who spend time in the NICU have a greater chance of getting infections than babies without a NICU stay. So take extra steps to keep your baby healthy while she’s building up her immune system, especially during cold and flu season. Your baby’s immune system helps protect her from infections. 

Here’s what you can do to help keep your baby healthy:

  • Limit the number of people who come to your home.
  • Ask visitors to wash their hands before touching your baby.
  • Don’t let visitors smoke in your home or near your baby.
  • Don’t let visitors who are sick, who have a fever or who may have been exposed to an illness near your baby.
  • Ask any adult who may have contact with your baby to get a Tdap vaccination to prevent the spread of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also called whooping cough) to your baby. These infections can be dangerous for a baby.
  • Try not to take your baby to crowded places, like the shopping mall and grocery stores.

What can you do to make sure your baby is safe while he sleeps?

Safe sleep means putting your baby to sleep in ways that can help protect him from dangers, like choking and suffocation (not being able to breathe) and sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old. SIDS usually happens when a baby is sleeping. It’s sometimes called crib death because the baby often dies in his crib.

Once your baby’s home from the NICU, follow the same guidelines that make sleep safe for any baby. These include:

  • Putting your baby to sleep on his back
  • Putting your baby to sleep in his own crib or bassinet
  • Not sharing a bed with your baby

How do you find a child care provider for your baby?

If you’re going back to work or school, you may need to find a child care provider for your baby. There are lots of different child care options. But not all child care providers can take care of a baby with medical needs. To help you find child care for your baby:

  • Ask your baby’s health care provider about finding a child care provider. Ask if she can refer you to a provider who has experience caring for babies with medical needs.
  • Ask the NICU staff for suggestions for child care providers.
  • Search the internet for day care centers that take babies who have medical needs.
  • Find out if your health insurance covers the cost of in-home nursing care for your baby.

NICU babies are more likely to get sick when they’re around other babies, children or adults. If you’re taking your baby to a child care center, make sure the staff follow these rules: 

  • Caregivers must wash their hands before touching babies or children.
  • Caregivers must wash their hands after changing diapers, touching used tissues and going to the bathroom.
  • Sick babies and children aren’t allowed to attend child care.  Child care centers have rules about when children who have been sick can come back to day care. For example, a child who has had a fever or been sick may not be allow back to the center until he’s been symptom-free or has been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

If you’re having a child care provider come to your home to care for your baby, let her spend a few days with you and your baby before you go back to work or school. This gives her time to learn how to best take care of your baby and for your baby to adjust to the provider.

Does your baby need vaccinations or other treatments before starting child care?  

Yes, make sure your baby is current on vaccinations before she starts child care. Vaccinations help protect your baby from certain diseases. Call your baby’s health care provider to find out if your baby if your baby needs vaccinations. Or check the vaccination schedule.

Ask your baby’s provider about treatment to protect him from respiratory syncytial virus (also called RSV). RSV is a common virus that affects lungs and breathing. If your baby is at high risk for severe RSV, he may need medicine to help prevent it. High-risk babies include premature babies and babies who have lung or heart problems or other chronic (long term) health conditions. 

Last reviewed May, 2019