Many websites provide information about the medical needs of premature infants, while others will address the emotional issues of having a baby born early in the intensive care nursery. This website presents information for parents, foster parents and caregivers, who wish to support and promote their infant’s early development. This information is meant to help the primary caregiver for the infant who is graduating from the intensive care nursery, to build your relationship, the most important ingredient in your infant’s development. You make a difference to your baby. We hope that the information provided here will guide you to build your special relationship between you and your baby.
After the NICU: Taking my baby home
The experience in the NICU is overwhelming for both you and your baby. Each day brings a new agenda—some days might be consumed with a life-threatening situation while other days offer time for healing and growing. The transition from the hospital to home can be equally trying. For the baby, going from the womb to the NICU is like going from earth to Mars. Suddenly the baby has to breath, eat, and manage body movements with gravity without the support of the mother’s body. As you know, the NICU can be a very stimulating place with new sites and sounds and many activities buzzing around the baby. Leaving that stimulation and going home is also a big transition. That transition is more like going from Mars to Venus. The sounds, lights, and activities of your home will also be different from the hospital environment.
After taking a baby home from the NICU, several changes may be happening. The relationship between you and your baby may seem very different than that of a full-term infant. It may feel difficult to respond to an infant who is more irritable or less receptive, and who doesn’t seem to want to look at you or smile. In addition, some babies may have trouble sleeping, feeding and establishing routines.
After recovering from the fear that your baby may not survive, acceptance, adjustment and believing that she now will grow and develop also can be difficult. You may feel anxious about caring for your baby at home, away from constant professional guidance. And it is not unusual for parents to be coping with numerous other responsibilities and issues at the same time—everything from feeling isolated to dealing with financial responsibilities and caring for older siblings.
As you and your baby begin to adjust to life at home, you may become aware of the process of “reclaiming your baby, ”since other people have been caring for her. This becomes a process of gaining confidence and realizing that you are the caregiver, the most important person in your baby’s life. You can provide the foundation your baby needs to build and nurture a healthy, secure relationship with you. Remember that this is your baby, and you know more about your baby than anyone else does.
While every situation is different and every parent is different, here are some thoughts to consider as you leave the NICU and in the first weeks and months after you bring your baby home:
Before you leave the hospital:
- Before you go home, sit down with the nurse or doctor who knows your baby best and talk through all your questions and concerns.
- Make sure you get a list of the normal things to expect and the “red flags” or signs of distress to keep in mind. Ask specifically about what might prompt a call to a nurse and what would warrant a visit to the emergency room.
Once you are home:
- Plan nothing for the first week or two (maybe more) of your baby’s homecoming. No relatives or friends should visit unless they will be helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Figure out whether it is a friend or relative, clergy, medical provider, counselor or someone else who could help you get through the first months.
- You may feel a range of emotions in the first months home, including shock, grief, anger and shame. Allow space for your emotions.
- Take it slow with visitors. It is good for you and your family to establish some routines with the baby before having a lot of friends and family coming by.
- Allow time for you and your family to learn about what helps your baby stay calm and what makes him/her feel stress. Download Getting To Know Your Baby.pdf (English version) [16MB] which will help you learn what your baby is trying to communicate to you.
- Trust yourself and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right with your baby, act on your feelings. Initially they may just be your fears, but over time you will build confidence and learn the difference between fear and the need for intervention.
Strategies for coping with this transition
- Your coping mechanisms and your emotions may be different from that of your spouse or partner. One may spend hours on the computer seeking more information while the other gets relief from crying every night before going to sleep. Respect each other’s ways of expressing and handling the stress.
- Include your other children in discussions about the NICU experience. Sit and listen as they share what it’s like to have the baby come home.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Try to find a group of other families to talk to or meet with, in person or through the computer.
- It might help to see a counselor if emotions are overwhelmingly strong and make relationships with your infant or other family members difficult.
For more help, see Supporting Your Infant After the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery Experience.
Download supporting_your_infant.pdf [6.7MB]
Download getting_to_know-spanish.pdf (Spanish version) [7MB]