The complete resource for NICU families from admission to discharge and beyond

With the birth of a new baby, it’s natural for you to want to jump in and begin to care for your baby. The new mom wants to “be a mom” and the new dad has an overwhelming desire to “take care of” his new family – both mother as she recovers from pregnancy/childbirth and his new baby. When that baby is in the NICU, the progression into parenthood is disrupted – you very likely may be confused and uncertain about your role, feel somewhat “out of control” and wonder what can you do to help and care for your baby. This Is Completely Understandable! Regardless of your baby’s condition, there are ways you can be involved in his/her care, and the NICU staff wants to help you be as involved as you want to be.

 Most NICUs have liberal visitation policies, many with 24/7 access for the birth mother and another person of her choice. You may want to be at your baby’s bedside non-stop, but the staff will encourage you to rest and recover yourself. This is not an attempt to remove you from your baby, but rather concern for your well-being. After all, you just had a baby! You need to recover at the same time your baby is receiving the best care possible. Check with your NICU about visitation by others, such as grandparents, minor children, friends and family. Your privacy is also paramount, and you control access to your baby – information as well as visitation.

Regardless of your baby’s age or condition, you will be asked about your plans to breastfeed your baby. We say “breastfeed” but a NICU stay usually requires a mom to pump and store her breastmilk, called “expressed breast milk.” Breastmilk is the most beneficial way to feed most babies, but not all mothers choose – or are able – to provide breastmilk. Choosing to provide breastmilk when you are able to do so is a meaningful way you can contribute to your baby’s care – and have a big impact on his/her short and long term health.

Depending on your baby’s condition, it may be some time before you are able to hold him/her. Babies recognize their mother’s smell in the hours after birth and you may ask about placing in the incubator a breastpad you have worn that carries your scent. Even if your baby is extremely small, you may be able to provide kangaroo care. This is a way to hold your baby by placing him/her on your bare chest between your breasts, then covering both of you with a blanket. Even the smallest baby can be successfully “kangaroo’d” and your body heat will keep your baby warm. Fathers can kangaroo, too (although many are reluctant to do so).

Parents will also be encouraged to help change diapers, take body temperatures and, as your baby grows and recovers, give baths and help with feedings. Many families bring in pictures, religious insignias, stuffed animals, blankets, baby clothes, etc. Each NICU has its own rules regarding these items based on infection risk, safety, and so forth. Be sure to ask about your NICU’s specific policies before bringing in such personal items.

Many families have some familiarity with the medical system and may have a family member in the medical field. Certainly, this can be helpful in some ways, but in many ways, it may not be as helpful as one might think. Neonatal care is quite different than care for the other age groups, and the NICU personnel have specialized training in these tiny human beings. But more importantly, you are the parent! Your baby has lots of medical caregivers, but only one set of parents! We can do a whole lot to care for your baby, but we cannot be his/her parent -- only you can do that! Use this time to develop that most unique and incredibly special bond between you and your baby – that bond that is like no other. (You may wish to utilize the “My NICU” feature found on the home page to chart your baby’s progress, log photos and journal entries, and connect with other NICU families.)

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