Mighty Blog

What you need to know if your baby is in the NICU

Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be very scary for parents. But, Children’s Minnesota is here to help you with those worries. We’re answering questions you might have if your baby is in the NICU.

What is the NICU?

NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. When babies are born early, have health problems or have a difficult birth, they go to the Children’s Minnesota NICU where they can get around-the-clock care from our team neonatal team made up of 500 doctors, surgeons and pediatric specialists.

Most of these babies go to the NICU within 24 hours of birth. Some babies will be in the NICU for a few hours or days, while others may stay for weeks or months. It all depends on their unique health needs.

You may also hear a NICU referred to as the following:

  • Special care nursery.
  • Intensive care nursery.
  • Newborn intensive care nursery.

Who can visit the NICU?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Children’s Minnesota has enhanced visiting standards in place for all areas of our hospital, including our NICU. You can read our current visiting standards in full here.

How can I help care for my baby?

Many parents in the NICU want to be involved with their baby’s care as much as they can.For mothers, helping feed the baby is a great way to help your baby and bond with them. Additionally, getting to know your baby’s schedule will help as well.

Feeding your baby in the NICU

Mothers may be able to breastfeed their babies, or offer pumped breast milk or formula in a bottle. If you need help breastfeeding or pumping, ask a nurses and lactation consultants are able to help!

While some babies in the NICU can feed on their own, some may not be able to yet due to early development or health problems. But they can get breast milk or formula through a feeding tube.

Getting to know your baby and their schedule

Babies in the NICU are on a feeding schedule. Your baby’s nurse can tell you when your baby should eat and sleep. The more time you spend with your baby, the more you will learn about:

  • What type of interaction your baby likes—stroking, hand holding or singing.
  • What time of day your baby is the most alert.
  • How long your baby can respond to you before getting tired.
  • When your baby is stressed and needs to rest.

Talk in a calm, soothing voice; keep lights dim; and keep noise to a minimum. Although you may want to interact with your baby often, let your baby sleep when they need to.

Become familiar with the NICU equipment

When you first enter a NICU, you might feel a little alarmed by all of the equipment—but that’s normal! All of that equipment is there to help your baby get well. Here’s a brief look at some equipment you might find. You can always ask your nurse or doctor to help explain the equipment so you feel more comfortable with it all.

Can I hold my baby in the NICU?

Depending on your baby’s health, you might be able to hold your little one, even if they are on a ventilator or have an IV. If the doctors feel that would be too much, you can still hold your baby’s hand, stroke his or her head, and talk and sing to him or her.

If you can, skin-to-skin contact, or “kangaroo care,” is a good way to bond with your baby:

  • Place your baby (who’s usually dressed in just a diaper and a hat) on your chest underneath your shirt, so your little one is resting on your skin.
  • Loosely close your shirt over your baby to help keep him or her warm.

Skin-to-skin contact can help with breastfeeding and improve healing times so that babies go home sooner.

However, for some very premature infants, touching is stressful. Your baby’s care team may suggest that you limit physical touch, but you can still spend time with your baby. NICU staff can help you figure out how much and what type of touch is best.

How can I feel less stressed?

We understand that having a baby in the NICU can be one of the most stressful times in your life. You may be away from your support circle or other children. You may even feel like your life has been turned upside down as you wait for the day when your baby is ready to go home with you.

While it is hard, it’s important to keep things as normal as possible. These tips can help:

  • Pay attention to your own needs and those of the rest of your family, especially other kids. Doing something for yourself can be as simple as taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk or reading a book.
  • Make plans for a weekly family activity, and sit down together and talk about how this experience makes you feel.
  • Turn to other parents whose babies are in the NICU for support. They’ll know better than anyone what you’re feeling. Join a virtual support group to share your feelings, worries, and triumphs together.
  • The hospital’s chaplain also can give you support.

When you take care of yourself, you’ll be more rested and better able to take care of and get to know your baby. While a NICU stay can be hard, it’s also rewarding to watch your little one grow stronger each day.

Children’s Minnesota neonatal program and NICU

In the NICUs and neonatology programs of Children’s Minnesota, amazing things happen. Because we are built for it.

Our neonatal team of nearly 500 doctors, surgeons and pediatric specialists is the largest in Minnesota—and one of the largest in the country. With nearly 200 neonatal beds in our hospitals and special care nurseries, we welcome nearly 3,000 newborns every year. Also, in collaboration with the Michael and Ann Ciresi Midwest Fetal Care Center, we provide life-saving care to babies with high-risk conditions before they’re even born.

Kaitlyn Kamleiter