Congratulations! The day you finally bring your baby home from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is life changing. After a long, exhausting journey, it’s important to remember that you’ll feel a barrage of emotions: excitement, joy, happiness, and maybe even uncertainty. But don’t let these troublesome feelings bog you down. Instead, embrace your new world by following these key steps to optimize your body, mind, and soul as your beloved newborn is discharged.
1) Take Care of Yourself
Like we said, it’s been a long journey—expect to be tired. The stress of having your baby in the NICU can weigh on you, and parents of babies in the NICU may be at increased risk for mood disorders. Riding the ups and downs of a NICU roller coaster might leave you feeling exhausted, but you’re not alone. There are many support groups for NICU and preemie parents across the country, and Onsite’s team is always here to help.
2) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
As you prepare for discharge from the NICU, and even long after settling in at home, it’s normal to have many lingering questions to ask the doctors, nurses and hospital staff. Don’t be afraid to reach out! As one of our preemie parents said, “It’s not over for the doctors after the kids leave the NICU.” Don’t be afraid to call your neonatologist, ask them questions, and keep them updated on your child’s progress. Onsite’s providers are committed to the care of your newborn well beyond their stay in the NICU.
3) Prepare for New Routines
Bringing your baby home from the hospital is cause to rejoice, but adjusting to new routines can be stressful for families. To relieve the chaos, organize some systems within your household based on your child’s needs. Be prepared for frequent trips to see your pediatrician to check on your newborn and potentially follow up on hearing screenings, even if they are in good health. Also keep in mind that preemies tend to sleep more than full-term babies—just in shorter spans of time. Ask your neonatologist about your baby’s needs so you can plan ahead for these adjustments.
4) Allow Time for Family Adjustment
Preemies require more attention than full-term newborns, so expect to devote more time, patience, and energy to them. However, if you have other children, remember that it is not uncommon for them to get jealous over the newborn. Let the family gradually connect with the preemie as they provide support for you both. As your newborn gradually adjusts to your family, remember that your family with also be going through an adjustment period of their own.
5) Limit Your Preemie’s Visitors
After a long stay in the NICU, everyone—we mean everyone—will be excited to come celebrate with you and your preemie. It may be nice to see friends and family but remember your little preemie can get exhausted easily, so it’s important to limit the number of visitors they see. For those special visitors who do get to meet your newborn, be sure they are not currently ill or coming down with a cold or the flu. Additionally, preemies are more sensitive to stimulation and need a softer touch, so they shouldn’t be held by visitors for long. Remember that you are your baby’s best advocate—don’t be afraid to tell others that your neonatologist advised you to limit visitors!
6) Stay Safe and Sound at Home
Premature babies must be sheltered at home as much as possible, especially during the first few months of their lives. It is important to remember that while you may want to take your newborn baby out into the world, it may not be healthy for them. Avoid places that have large crowds, such as churches or grocery stores. Even when you must visit your baby’s doctor’s office, ask to be seen in a private examination room while you wait.
7) Stock Up on Preemie Equipment
All parents will need to buy some new equipment to better care for their child, but preemies require extra special gear. Since preemies are not full-term, the products, clothes, and equipment they need are different. Don’t panic—just because they’re different, doesn’t mean they’re hard to locate! This comprehensive list of the best products for premature babies details the best products for preemies.
8) Put Your Baby to Sleep on Their Back
While you may enjoy sleeping on your side or stomach, it is not safe for your preemie to do the same. Make every effort to ensure your preemie sleeps on his or her back. Multiple studies show that by helping your preemie go to sleep on their back, you will drastically reduce the likelihood of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) while improving your baby’s posture.
9) Keep Up with “Kangaroo Care”
Study after study shows skin-to-skin contact between a premature baby and his or her parent is beneficial for a variety of reasons. This type of contact is known as kangaroo care, which is a method where both the parent and preemie’s skin touches one another, usually on the chest. The benefits of kangaroo care include improved oxygen saturation rates, better regulated body temperature, and conserved calories for the infant. This method is backed by Onsite Neonatal and our physicians as we believe in practicing evidence-based medicine.
10) Practice Precautions for Your Preemie
It’s no secret that preemies require extra care and attention—so give it to them! Upon arriving home from the NICU, remember to keep an eye on your newborn. If you see anything that raises concern, don’t be afraid to contact your pediatrician and neonatologist. Take your time with new activities and be sure to do your research. Even if you have other children, be aware that preemies have different needs and your first few weeks and months at home with them can look very different.
We hope that following these steps makes your transition out of the NICU as smooth as possible as your little baby brings a whole lot of joy into your home. As always, the neonatologists and pediatricians that make up our national neonatal group are here to support you and answer your questions 24/7.