The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, is a unit in the hospital designed to care for premature babies or babies with other serious medical conditions, such as heart problems, birth defects, or breathing difficulties.
Sometimes mothers will be discharged before their baby. When this is the case, the family must decide how to navigate this situation. Depending on hospital regulations, some parents are able to stay with their baby in the NICU or in another private room in the hospital or in a hotel nearby, while other parents must return home to fulfill personal obligations including work or caring for other children.
Whether you plan to stay with your baby or visit as you are able, there may be some items you may want to have on hand while in the NICU. Central Nebraska Doula owner and two time NICU mom, Jenna Frick, shares about what items she found particularly helpful to have when caring for her own daughters while they were patients in the NICU.
Clothing for Baby
While the hospital may provide clothing for NICU babies, some parents prefer to have their baby wear their own clothing. It is important to discuss this with the healthcare staff as there may be instances where they prefer the baby not be clothed. Once you have the green light you may dress your baby in his or her own clothing. Premature babies may need special premature sized clothing. It is typically recommended to use onesies or sleepers with snap closures as it is easier to pass wires and tubes through the clothing without having to remove the clothing if wires need to be moved.
You may also be able to swaddle your baby in his or her own swaddling blanket. For mothers who choose to express breastmilk when away from their baby, it can be helpful to bring a blanket that has previously been wrapped around your baby, as the scent of your baby can help increase the milk producing hormones, when you are pumping while away from your baby.
If you bring your own clothing or blankets to the NICU it is a good idea to label your items so they are not mixed up with the hospital’s clothing and blankets.
If you are planning to breastfeed you may also want to check with the NICU to see if some of the items you will need for expressing milk and cleaning parts are available to you or if you need to supply your own. These supplies include: a breast pump and attachment pieces, bottles/storage bags, a breastfeeding pillow, sanitizing bags or wipes, and a bottle brush. Don’t forget soothing nipple cream, as early breastfeeding and pumping can make your nipples very tender.
Clothing for Parents
If you will be staying overnight you will want to have comfortable clothing for sleeping as well as a clean set of clothing for the next day.
After giving birth, whether vaginally or by cesarean, women will bleed for several days. The hospital will likely send you home with large pads to wear in your underwear. To reduce infection risks, it is not advised to wear tampons for at least 6 weeks. If you plan to breastfeed you may also want to pack nursing pads to wear in your nursing bra. Due to hormonal changes after giving birth, many women feel cold, off and on for several days. You may want to have a jacket, sweatshirt, sweater, or blanket handy.
Additionally, if you are staying overnight, you will want to pack items such as shampoo, soap, deodorant, a toothbrush and paste, a hair brush, and eyeglasses or contact lenses. You will be washing your hands and using hand sanitizer frequently, which can be very drying. Unscented lotion can be very soothing for dry skin.
You will likely want to have your camera or cell phone available to take pictures and videos. Don’t forget to pack a charger for your electronic items.
Snacks and Drinks
If you will be with your baby during meal times you may want to have some quick, easy-to-eat, room-temperature stable snacks, such as dried fruit, nuts, pretzels, crackers (plain, with peanut butter, or dipped in ready-to-eat tuna), granola bars, dry cereal, jerky, or trail mix. Bringing your own snacks can help you make the most of your time with your baby. If you don’t want to bring your own snacks, vending machines and hospital cafeterias are usually available. It is especially important for breastfeeding mothers to stay hydrated and nourished.
You will also want to remember any items that will help make your time in the NICU more comfortable such as a small pillow and blanket. If you need to take some time to yourself you may enjoy having music and headphones, or a book or magazine available. One of my favorite things was having a notebook and pen available to journal my feelings. It also came in handy to jot down quick notes and suggestions from hospital staff.
Having a baby in the NICU is often very stressful for families. It is important to find time to take care of yourself, too. For more information about how a Postpartum and Infant Care Doula can be an asset to your family during this time, contact Central Nebraska Doula.