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Visiting your baby in the NICU

NICU - visiting baby; Neonatal intensive care - visiting

Your baby is staying in the hospital NICU. NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. While there, your baby will receive special medical care. Learn what to expect when you visit your baby in the NICU.

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What is a NICU?

The NICU is a special unit in the hospital for babies born preterm, very early, or who have some other serious medical condition. Most babies born very early will need special care after birth.

Your delivery may have taken place in a hospital that has a NICU. If not, you and your baby may have been moved to a hospital with a NICU to receive special care.

Very Early Babies Look Different

When babies are born early, they have not yet finished growing. So, they will not look like a baby that was carried a full 9 months.

Other things you may notice:

What to Expect in the NICU

Your baby will be put in an enclosed, see-through plastic crib called an incubator. This special crib will:

Your baby will wear a cap so the head will stay warm.

There will likely be tubes and wires attached to the baby. This can seem scary to new parents. They are not hurting the baby.

Bonding With Your Baby in the NICU

It is normal for parents to feel nervous or scared to have a baby in the NICU. You can lessen these feelings by:

Even though your baby is inside a special crib, it is still important for you to touch your baby. Talk with the nurses about touching and talking to your baby.

Cuddling with your baby against your skin, called "kangaroo care," will also help you bond. It will not be long before you see things you would have seen had the baby been born full-term, like your baby's smile and your baby grasping your fingers.

Take Care of Yourself

After giving birth, your body will need some time to rest and recover. Your feelings may also hit highs and lows. You may feel the joy of being a new mom one moment, but anger, fear, guilt, and sadness the next.

Having a baby in the NICU is stressful enough, but these ups and downs can also be caused by hormone changes after childbirth.

In some women, the changes may lead to feeling sad and depressed. If you are having a hard time with your emotions, ask for the social worker in the NICU. Or, talk to your doctor. It is OK to ask for help.

By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your baby too. Your baby needs your love and touch to grow and improve.

References

Friedman SH, Thomson-Salo F, Ballard AR. Support for the family. In: Martin RJ, Fanaroff AA, Walsh MC, eds. Fanaroff and Martin's Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier ; 2020:chap 42.

Hobel CJ. Obstetric complications: preterm labor and delivery, PROM, IUGR, postterm pregnancy, and IUFD. In: Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ, eds. Hacker & Moore's Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 12.

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Review Date: 10/2/2020  

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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