In some instances, a baby (or babies!) might arrive early and require time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This can be emotional and stressful for new parents. Huntington Hospital’s Director of Pediatric Services, Jamie Powers, MD, shares her top five tips for NICU families to help prepare them for their babies’ stay at the hospital.
Can I hold my baby after he/she is born?
Whenever possible, we strongly support one or both parents holding their infants after they are born. We know that doing skin-to-skin care, also called kangaroo care, helps to stabilize a baby’s heart rate, breathing and temperature, not to mention the emotional benefits for both parents and baby. There are a few special circumstances when holding their baby following delivery may not be an option, for example, if an infant is delivered extremely premature or is very sick. Even for these infants, we encourage parents to hold their baby’s hand, read stories at the bedside, and even participate in taking the temperature, giving baths and changing diapers. Once the infant is ready, we start kangaroo care on a regular basis.
What is all of the equipment for?
Newborn infants, especially sick and premature infants, have very special needs that are different from an adult or even small child. The small houses the infants are kept in, called isolettes, can help to regulate temperature, humidity, sound and light – all of which are crucial for appropriate development. Depending on the baby’s needs, we can also monitor the heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen levels, carbon dioxide levels and brain activity, just to name a few items. Since every infant is different, the equipment that we need to use will be different for every infant. Regardless of what we are monitoring, it is all designed to ensure we are catering to each baby’s very special needs so that they continue to grow healthier and stronger.
How long will my baby be in the NICU?
A baby’s length of stay in the NICU depends on why he/she was admitted. The stay can be as short as a few hours, like for babies with low blood sugar levels or in need of a little breathing help, to as long as several months, like for an infant born extremely premature. The care team meets with families on a routine basis so that parents know when to anticipate their baby’s homecoming.
How often can I visit my baby while he/she is in the NICU?
Unlike the remainder of the hospital, regular visiting hours do not apply to the NICU. Parents are welcome to visit any time they are able, whether it’s 2 a.m. or dinnertime. We understand that leaving your baby in the hospital to go home is very stressful for families. Knowing that, we open our door to families whenever they want to visit.
Will I be able to breastfeed my baby while he/she is in the NICU? Or will I be able to once he/she is out?
We strongly encourage mothers to provide breastmilk for their babies whenever possible. Not all babies are able to breast or bottle feed when first born, but we have lactation consultants available to help support mothers with pumping their milk in the interim. When the infants are big enough and strong enough, we do promote breastfeeding while the babies are still in the NICU. Many of our NICU graduates are exclusively breastfed once home, or at least on a combination of both breast and bottle feeding.
Not all NICUs are equal, so it’s important to know the difference when you are choosing where to have your baby. Our level III NICU provides the highest level of neonatal intensive care available in the San Gabriel Valley. Families are offered a wide range of services to receive the support they need, including access to the March of Dimes app, which provides information and an instant community of NICU families who are sharing their experiences as well.