Infant in the NICU.

When you’re pregnant, you might not picture (or prepare for) a situation where your baby might need to stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). But whether you’re anticipating it or not, understanding what to expect in the NICU can help you feel prepared should your little one need some extra love and attention after delivery. 

The NICU is a Busy Place

There are a lot of different kinds of machinery and equipment present in the NICU to help each little one receive as much monitoring, care and support as possible (including heart and blood pressure monitors, IVs, temperature monitors, respirators and other apparatuses to help babies get enough oxygen). And with these machines comes occasional beeping and quiet alarms that signal things like changes in vital signs or low IV fluids. These sounds are all normal, and help staff anticipate and respond to the needs of each baby quickly. While it can be overwhelming to see tiny babies surrounded by machines and wires—remember, each one is there to do an important job to help your baby get bigger and stronger. 

There can also be a lot of people present in the NICU. Between other parents, physicians (neonatologists), nurses, specialists, therapists and social workers, it might not feel quite as private as you’d hope at times. But keep in mind, all of the people in and around the NICU have an important job in caring for your little one…and their families, too! The NICU at Women & Babies Hospital has private breastfeeding areas, and family sitting and visiting rooms in order to make your family as comfortable as possible during baby’s stay.

You Can (and Should) Be Part of Baby’s Care

Just because there are a lot of members of baby’s medical team present doesn’t mean you should take a backseat when it comes to caring for your baby. When your little one is ready, you’ll be encouraged to hold them (Kangaroo Care, or skin-to-skin is an amazing time to bond), feed them, bathe them—even change their diaper! While it might take a bit of practice if baby is hooked up to monitors or other devices, the nurses will show you the ropes. Even if your baby isn’t strong enough to be held just yet, the care team can show you the best ways to touch, talk to and comfort your baby. 

NICU Staff Members are Your Biggest Cheerleaders

There are so many resources the NICU has to offer for families of their patients—and, mama, we can assure you that taking advantage of the support will make a unplanned NICU stay feel a bit easier. To name just a few…

  • Lactation consultants are available to help you with breastfeeding your little one (whether helping you learn how to pump breast milk, or teaching you and your baby how to breastfeed once they’re ready).
  • Social workers are on site to empower families throughout their little one’s care, and promote positive developmental outcomes for babies through assessment, advocacy, and support. They can also help connect you to any special resources you and your family may need.
  • The NICU doctors and nurses work every day to make sure you’re included in your baby’s medical plan of care and feel supported. One way to include you is by performing Family Centered-Rounds each morning. Your baby’s care team will always take the time to explain your child’s plan of care for the day. Never hesitate to ask questions if you don’t understand terminology or need more information.

Even if you’re anticipating that your little one could require a stay in the NICU, the fact of the matter is that it can be overwhelming (and even a little scary) to see your tiny baby surrounded by machines and wires. But remember, mama—every machine and person in the NICU does an important job that will help support, strengthen and monitor your newborn. Celebrate every tiny step, and every day that passes as your little one grows stronger and closer to going home.