Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Parenting
Learning how to parent your baby while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Remind yourself that all parents feel anxious or insecure. Whether or not this is your first baby, having a baby in the NICU can be scary.
Be patient with yourself if you feel hesitant, nervous or awkward. Nobody expects you to be comfortable or perfect right away. Give yourself the time you need to learn this new environment and your new baby.
Become an informed parent
The more you know about your baby’s medical condition, the more you can do to look out for your baby. Ask questions. Sometimes it helps to write them down as you think of them so you can ask them later. Types of questions to ask include:
- What will they tell us?
- What can I do to take care of my baby?
- How is my baby doing?
- Has anything changed?
- How will I be informed of any changes in my baby’s care?
- What caused this condition?
- Is there anything I should expect while we are in the hospital because of this condition?
- What types of tests are being done and why?
- How will all of this help my baby?
- What about when I go home?
We are here to help you learn everything you need to know. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or asking the staff for help.
Decorate baby's space
- Bring blankets from home to put in your baby’s bed.
- Hang photos and pictures on your baby’s bed and in the room.
- Leave a cloth with your scent in the baby’s bed by your baby’s face.
- Record a special message or lullaby to play for your baby while you are away.
- Make or ask for a name sign so we can call your baby by name.
Getting to know your premature baby
As a parent, you are beginning a new relationship. You are creating a new and special attachment by getting to know your special newborn. A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can make this more difficult. You have to put forth more effort and find special ways to be a family. This section is made to help you understand your baby’s special characteristics. By watching your baby closely, you can understand how your baby is reacting to surroundings and what he is saying.
These are signs your baby gives you to let you know he is ready to interact with you. He will be quiet and in an alert state. His face will be relaxed, and his eyes will appear bright. Your baby will be able to look at you and focus on your face. His lips may “purse” as if he were saying “ooh.” Your baby’s arms and legs will be relaxed, and the fingers and toes may curl softly. At this time, your baby may bring their hands to her face.
Your baby also has the ability to calm himself. Your baby will look away if he needs to give himself a break. He will wiggle to get tucked into a fetal position. He will snuggle himself against blanket rolls, the sides or bottom of the bed. Babies suck on their lips, tongue, pacifier, hands or fingers. They might also bring their hands to the center of their body or to their face, as if it looks like they are thinking.
Ways you can help your baby grow and develop:
- Watch your baby’s body language. Let your baby tell you what to do.
- Do only one thing at a time, especially at first.
- Stroke your baby, talk to your baby or let your baby see your face.
- Use a firm yet gentle touch instead of a light ticklish touch.
- Speak to your baby softly and calmly.
- Shade your baby’s eyes from bright lights with your hand so baby can look at you easier.
- When you put your baby back to bed, help him get in a curved fetal position.
- Swaddle your baby if he is upset. Try to keep his hands together near his body.
- Encourage your baby to calm himself by having him suck on his hands, fingers or a pacifier.
Try to stay relaxed yourself. Be patient. As your baby grows and gets stronger, there will be more awake times to spend with your baby.
Time-out signals are signs that your baby has had enough and needs a break. There are a lot of ways babies tell us they need a time-out, such as yawns, hiccups, gagging and spitting up. His fingers may stiffen and straighten; if he is not given a break here, he will stiffen his arm out as if to say “stop.” His arms and legs will be stiff, and he may show jerky movements or startles.