When visiting premature babies for the first time, they may look different than what’s expected or remembered
It may be shocking how small and helpless your baby may seem. You may feel an overwhelming need to protect your little one. You may even feel like crying, and that's okay. Everyone caring for your baby understands. The NICU staff is there to help parents visiting premature babies, like you, every day.
You may see medical staff and a lot of unfamiliar equipment
Though some of the equipment may seem intimidating or frightening at first, each piece is very important to the care of your baby. Learning about equipment in the NICU will help you get familiar and more comfortable with some of the equipment you see.
Since the NICU is such a busy place, you'll need to ask about the rules and NICU guidelines
To keep the NICU running efficiently and to respect the privacy of other families, there are specific rules and NICU guidelines that must be followed when visiting your premature baby. Many of these rules have to do with family members visiting. Parents will usually be able to visit any time (some interactions may be limited at first), while extended family members may have to follow visitation hours.
There may be other rules regarding cell phone use, food and drinks, hand sanitation, gifts, as well as toys or stuffed animals for your little one. You should ask about the various rules and NICU guidelines prior to or upon arrival.
During visits, your NICU nurses may ask you to wear a gown and wash your hands in a special way
They may also ask you not to wear rings or other jewelry. Everything they do is to prevent germs from being spread to your baby and ensure their safety.
As your baby grows, their alert periods will lengthen and tolerance for stimulation will increase
You may want to target your visits during feeding times because your little one is most likely to be alert, allowing your baby to start associating you with feeding time.
Remember, your premature baby, like the rest of us, may have good days and bad days
Because of their maturing nervous system, what may soothe your baby one day may not the next. Your little one may not be able to tolerate too much stimulation at one time. They may only be able to be touched, talked to, or looked at, but not all at once.
No two premature babies are alike. One may love to be rocked for hours, while another is overwhelmed by the slightest touch. Don't worry, your NICU staff will be there to suggest how and when to touch or hold your baby.
If your baby is going to be in the NICU for a long time, and you have other children at home wanting to see their new baby, talk with your NICU staff about arranging visits
NICU staff will do everything possible to involve your entire family in your baby's care. Many hospitals allow sibling visitation. Having your older children bring or send a gift to the nursery, such as coloring a picture, can help them feel more in touch with their baby sibling until they come home. Some families sing and tell stories, or even bring a recording for the baby to listen to, so their little one can be soothed by a familiar voice.
Your baby may have to transfer facilities more than once between birth and going home
There are a few reasons why your baby may be transferred from the NICU they were first taken to and into a different unit or facility. Depending on your hospital, sometimes babies are transferred to a “stepdown” nursery, where it’s quieter and there are fewer machines.
If you live a long distance from your NICU, your baby may be transferred to a hospital nursery closer to your home. A hospital transfer will be discussed with you in advance and will only occur after the neonatologist, your local doctor and you agree the transfer is appropriate.
The time your baby is in the NICU may be a trying, stressful time for your entire family. Just remember, it won't last forever. They are growing stronger every day. Visit your baby as often as possible. Your love is especially important during this time.