Your baby's NICU stay
Many different health care providers take care of your baby in the NICU.
Ask questions about your baby’s condition and treatment so you know how your baby’s doing.
Be involved in your baby’s care in the NICU. Talk with NICU staff about when you can hold and feed your baby.
If you have more than one baby in the NICU, spend time with each one to learn how to care for their needs.
Visit shareyourstory.org to get support from other families who have had a baby in the NICU.
What happens when you first get to the NICU?
The NICU can be an overwhelming place. You may see lots of machines, small babies in incubators (clear, plastic beds for sick babies), hospital staff and other parents. You may:
- Meet the health care providers taking care of your baby
- Find out about your baby’s health and the medical equipment and treatment she needs to get better
- Find out when you can spend time with your baby and participate in her care
Who takes care of your baby in the NICU?
Your baby gets medical care in the NICU from many providers. These providers make up your baby’s health care team. Every provider on the team has different skills and is responsible for different parts of your baby’s care. Providers on your baby’s health care team may include:
- Neonatologist. This is a pediatrician who has special medical training to take care of sick newborns. A pediatrician is a doctor who takes care of babies and children.
- Pediatric resident. This is a doctor who is getting medical training to take care of babies and children.
- Nurse practitioner (also called NP). An NP is a registered nurse with advanced education and training.
- Registered nurse (also called RN). An RN has education and training to give medical care.
Your baby’s providers may change throughout your baby’s NICU stay. This depends on your baby’s condition, the length of time your baby is in the NICU and the way the NICU schedules its staff. For example, in some NICUs, one nurse may be assigned to care for your baby on most days. In other NICUs, your baby may have a different nurse every day. The doctors may change over time, too. Even if the providers change, everyone on your baby’s health care team works to give your baby the best care possible.
Talk to your baby’s providers about your baby’s condition and any tests and treatments she may need. If you can’t go to the NICU because of your own condition after giving birth, call the NICU and ask to speak to a provider on her health care team.
How can you care for your baby in the NICU?
You can be part of your baby’s care in the NICU. When your baby is ready, you can hold him, feed him, bathe him and change his diaper. You may be able to take his temperature and help weigh him. It’s OK if you feel nervous about doing these things. Your baby’s nurses can show you what to do.
You can hold your baby even if he’s connected to medical equipment. It may take time and practice for you and your baby to get comfortable. If you haven’t been able to hold your baby, ask the nurses how you can touch and comfort him.
How can you care for multiples in the NICU?
Having one baby in the NICU is challenging enough. So having multiples (twins, triplets or more) in the NICU can be even more demanding. You may feel overwhelmed, like there’s not enough of you to go around. You may worry about which baby needs you more.
Here’s what you can do to help you take care of more than one baby in the NICU:
- Spend time with each baby. Each one has her own personality and needs. Spending time with each baby can help you learn their cues so you know what works to soothe each one. Cues are signals your baby gives to let you know how she feels and what she needs.
- Trust yourself to give each baby what he needs. Once you start learning your baby’s cues, you’ll know how to care for each one and not feel so torn between them. You’ll know what each one needs on any given day or even hour by hour.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before and between touching each baby. Making sure your hands are clean helps protect your babies and other babies in the NICU from serious infections.
- Ask friends and family members for help, especially if your babies are in different rooms in the NICU or if one baby goes home before the other.
- Check the NICU rules about bringing a baby back to the NICU when you’re spending time with a baby still in the hospital.
What happens when you go home from the hospital but your baby has to stay in the NICU?
As a parent, it can be hard to leave your baby in the hospital. You may live far away or have to go back to work right after your baby is born. Or you may have older children at home to take care of. You may not be able to spend as much time as you’d like with your baby. If you don’t live close to the NICU, ask the staff about free or low-cost hotels in the area for NICU parents. And some NICUs have rooms for parents to sleep in.
What do you tell people about your baby’s condition?
Many people may ask how your baby is doing. How much you tell people about your baby’s condition is your choice. You can tell them as much or as little as you want. If you’re not sure exactly what to say, just say that your baby is in intensive care and you’re taking things day by day. If you don’t want to talk, you can thank people for their concern but tell them that you don’t want to talk about it right now.
A lot of parents use social media and blogs to update family members and friends about their baby. Visit shareyourstory.org, the March of Dimes online community for families. You can blog about your baby on this website and get comfort, support and information from other NICU parents.
See also: shareyourstory.org
Last reviewed: January, 2019