When can a baby leave the NICU?

Doctors and nurses in the NICU rely on certain milestones to determine when a preemie is nearing the end of his or her stay in the hospital. Each individual situation is different, of course, but for the most part, there are three things in particular that doctors and nurses want for a baby before he can leave the NICU.

  1. The baby can breast or bottle-feed on his own: The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that a baby shouldn’t be released from the NICU until he or she has either successfully breastfed or bottle-fed two times (or more). Since preemies are often born before their digestive systems are fully developed, it can take some time to get to this point.
  2. The baby can keep him or herself warm: It’s important for a baby to be able to maintain his body temperature for at least 24 to 48 hours without the use of an incubator.
  3. The baby is gaining weight at a consistent pace: Some hospitals require that a baby not be discharged until after he weighs a certain amount – 4 pounds or more, according to March of Dimes. Other hospitals don’t have this exact requirement, but it is important for all babies in the NICU to show signs that they’re growing bigger and stronger every day.

Other criteria

There are a few other things that NICU staff look for when determining if a baby can go home with his parents.
  • Healthy vital signs: A baby needs to have a normal body temperature and heartbeat.
  • Ability to breathe on their own: Many preemies need machines to help them breathe during their first few weeks or months of life. Being able to breathe without the assistance of a machine is a significant step for a preemie in the NICU.
  • Ability to urinate and pass stool: Every parent deserves to experience the joys of changing a diaper in their own home.
  • The baby and mother have received necessary vaccinations: These include hepatitis B, tetanus, and influenza vaccinations – essential for keeping mother and baby safe.
  • The mother/caregiver has been trained in infant care: It’s a little harder to learn to care for a preemie when the baby is in the NICU. Nurses teach parents all kinds of skills like how to breastfeed or feed their baby, how to keep their infant safe while sleeping, how to administer medication, what symptoms may indicate an illness, and how parents can keep their baby safe and healthy in general.
  • Travel safety: The caregivers have an appropriate car seat and know how to put their baby in it.
  • Healthcare provider: The family has a designated nurse or doctor to bring their baby to for check-ups. 

For many parents of preemies, the NICU becomes a home away from home, with compassionate caregivers and the medical equipment needed to help babies grow and get healthy. Of course, despite its good side, every parent with a baby in the NICU is counting down the days until they can take their baby home!

There are a lot of things that providers look for before that day comes. While the list may look far too long for your liking, it’s the best way to determine that a baby is healthy and ready to leave the NICU.


Sources
  • “AAP Issues Recommendations on Newborn Hospital Discharge Readiness.” American Academy of Pediatrics Press Room. American Academy of Pediatrics, April 27 2015. Web.
  • “Getting ready to leave the NICU.” Healthy Children. Academy Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015.
  • “Leaving the NICU.” March of Dimes.  March of Dimes Foundation, Aug 2015. Web.
  • “Preemie milestones.” Healthy Children.  American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015. Web.
  • “Preterm Birth Fact Sheet No. 363.” World Health Organization.  World Health Organization, Nov 2015. Web.
  • “Taking your preemie home.” Kids Health. The Nemours Foundation, March 2015. Web.
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