For many parents, taking a preemie home from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is both the best and the scariest day of their lives. If you’re feeling this way, don’t worry! It might take a little getting used to, but your preemie’s care will soon become second nature to you.
In general, a preemie can leave the NICU when they can keep themself warm, can breastfeed or bottle-feed, and is growing at a healthy rate. Having standard signs of readiness doesn’t mean that all preemies need the same kind of care once they’re home, though. Some need a lot of care, some need just a little bit more than any other newborn, and others are somewhere in the middle. But no matter what, there are some things to know about taking care of a preemie once their time in the NICU is finished.
- You might need to bring medical equipment home with you: It’s not uncommon for preemies to be sent home with certain kinds of equipment to support them until they’re developed enough to safely breathe or feed on their own. Equipment you might need could be oxygen, breathing monitors, or feeding tubes. Your baby’s caregivers will talk to you about this equipment before your baby is officially discharged from the NICU.
- You might not get out too much: In their first weeks of life outside the NICU, preemies are at higher risk of developing infections, so it’s best to keep them away from lots of people at first. You may not want to take your preemie to public places, although this depends on your doctor’s advice. With check-ups, if you get the first doctor’s appointment of the day, and try to not sit in the main waiting room, your baby will be exposed to fewer germs.
- Be careful with visitors: Before you have anyone visit your baby, it’s important to make sure your baby’s doctor approves visitors. Once your doctor says visitors are okay, it’s still important
make sure that anyone who visits is healthy, up to date on shots, and that they thoroughly wash their hands with hot water and soap before touching your baby. This goes without saying, but no one should smoke when they’re near your preemie.
- Don’t be surprised if your baby has a hard time falling asleep: Babies are adaptable – it’s one of their many talents! But this can make it hard for them when they’re in a new environment. Many parents of preemies report that their baby had a hard time falling asleep in the quiet darkness of their room, after getting used to the sounds and lights of the NICU. If this happens with your preemie, try putting a white noise machine in their room and keeping a dim light on at night to help their adjust.
- Don’t feel bad if discussing your preemie with other people is tough: In the weeks following your baby’s discharge, you could hear a lot of the same questions over and over again. It’s possible that people will make comments that come across as rude or inconsiderate. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what it’s like to have a preemie, and while they’re trying to be kind and understanding, it might add more to your plate. How you deal with this is really up to you, but don’t be afraid to decrease your amounts of social time if you find yourself not wanting to deal with the comments right now.
- Take care of yourself: Unfortunately, this one’s a little too easy to put on the back burner, but it’s just as important as the advice above! In the days following your baby’s discharge, you’ll likely be a little on edge and scared of being in charge, especially if your preemie needs a lot of extra care at home. All of these feelings are completely normal, but an important part of coping with these huge changes in your life is to try to make time to relax, and appreciate all the hard work that you’ve done so far (and so well!). As time goes on, your perception of what’s normal will change, and soon enough this will all be second-nature.
- “Home after the NICU.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, 2016. Web.
- “Taking Your Preemie Home.” KidsHealth. Nemours, 2016. Web.