How to Plan for a NICU Stay

How to Prepare for a NICU stay - What to know about the NICU - The Chicago Doulas

While most of our clients are fortunate to deliver full term healthy babies that are discharged from the hospital with them, some of our clients unexpectedly deliver preterm or have a baby with health problems, and yet others actually expect that their baby might necessitate a stay in the NICU. 

We've composed a list of tips for parents with unexpected and expected NICU stays.

1. Be prepared for a roller coaster of emotions.

Already, postpartum mood is unpredictable and the transition to parenthood is overwhelming. Add a NICU stay to the mix and it's no surprise that NICU parents need a lot of emotional support. Also recognize it might take some time to bond with your baby, which is totally normal.

2. Plan for how and when you'll see your baby in the NICU.

If you know your baby (or babies) might need a NICU stay, discuss with health care personnel in advance about when you'll be able to see and hold your baby. If the baby needs to be quickly whisked to the NICU, it's helpful to decide in advance if you want to see pictures of your baby first or if you want the first time you set eyes on them to be an in person event.

3. Take care of yourself.

It's easy to get caught up in wanting to spend all of your time in the NICU, but remember, you need to recover from giving birth, eat, and stay hydrated, particularly if you are breastfeeding. See if family and friends can take shifts to help make sure you're getting healthy meals in.

Family and friends often are unsure how to support families with babies in the NICU. Consider asking them to help out with your parking fees (hospital parking is expensive in Chicago!) or have them interrupt one of those long days in the NICU with a lunch date.

4. Take advantage of the professional help in the NICU.

NICU nurses are experts in infant care--use them as a resource! They can often give some awesome tidbits of advice related to bathing, diapering, sleep, and other topics new parents frequently have questions about. If you are planning to breastfeed, request the support of a board-certified lactation consultant.

5. If you're worried, call!

NICUs run 24/7, so if you wake up at 3am wondering what your baby is up to, call the nurses to check in! You'll sleep better after an update and nurses love engaged parents.


Maura Winkler is an RN, IBCLC, birth & postpartum doula, and owner of The Chicago Doulas