Are you preparing—just in case—for an unexpected NICU stay? Or do you know ahead of time that your baby will probably be in the NICU? Either way, it’s good to be ready for the possibility, and one way you can prepare is by packing in your hospital bag these 10 items you need for a short-term NICU stay. Then, if you need them, you have them!
I wasn’t prepared
I never expected to be in the NICU once I carried past 37 weeks. My baby was breech, but otherwise healthy. She was projected, even twice the day she was born, to come out at around 7lbs. Instead, during my C-section, they pulled out a whopping 8lb 9oz baby. I say, “whopping” because she was born at 38 weeks and 3 days; she shouldn’t have weighed that much yet. The doctors and nurses labelled her “big for gestational age.”
Related reading: My Breech Birth Story
Our hospital has a policy of monitoring the blood sugar of babies born outside of normal weight range because it can indicate glucose issues. As the night wore on, Lydia’s blood sugar fell and fell until it reached dangerous levels that weren’t improving even with interventions. She ended up admitted to the NICU, where she spent the first four days of her life.
Related reading: My NICU Story
I wasn’t prepared, mentally or practically. Now, I urge expectant parents to prepare for that possibility just in case. One great way to do that is to pack a few extra things that would make a potential NICU stay that much more bearable.
So if you’re looking to be a little more ready for the unexpected, here are 10 helpful items to have for a short-term NICU stay. These are all based on my own personal experience. In the future, I’ll be bringing you a list of helpful items for a longer NICU stay, based on the experience of a preemie mom. I hope these lists can help take the edge off if you find yourself with a NICU baby!
Don’t overlook the bonus point, as it’s the most important one on the list!
No matter how long your NICU stay is, you’re going to need lotion. Hospital soap and water has a mystical drying-out quality to it unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Seriously. Just one wash can you leave you feeling dry. Now imagine scrubbing for 30 seconds or more, going all the way up to your elbows, every 2-3 hours. That’s what you have to do every time you enter the NICU to visit your baby. You’re going to want to put some moisture back in your skin!
#2: An empty reusable bag
I was so glad I’d packed an empty reusable bag in our hospital gear, because it turned out I needed to carry stuff to and from the NICU. Think bottles of pumped milk, phone, headphones, baby accessories for pictures, lotion, a sweater, and anything I left the NICU with, like paperwork or encouragement gifts from volunteers.
Bring an empty reusable bag with you—they take up virtually no space—and use it when you go between your room and the NICU. If you’re discharged before your baby, you’ll probably just bring a purse or diaper bag with you when you visit, but leave extra room for unexpected items, or tuck your reusable bag into your purse.
#3: A camera
When you become a NICU mom, you have to worry about so much more than if you got to take your baby home straight away. Health concerns, feeding tubes, IV’s, monitors, schedules, pumping, feeding issues, communicating with nurses and doctors, and more. There’s less time to just enjoy your new baby like you wanted to.
So, be intentional. Don’t let yourself get so involved with your baby’s medical care that it’s all you think about. Slow down and take the time to enjoy your little bundle along the way.
A great way to do that is to take lots of pictures and videos! Pack and bring a camera with you, or remember to take pictures with your phone. Even if you think you won’t want them because they might be too hard to look at, take them anyway. You can always delete them later, but you can never go back and take them again.
Make sure you have your basics covered by bringing a full bottle of water with you. You’ll probably be pumping, not to mention recovering from childbirth, and sitting in the NICU for hours without anything to drink will definitely make the experience more difficult.
#5: Warm clothes
I was freezing every time I went to the NICU. Granted, hormones and blood loss and all that, but still. Whatever the reason, you might be cold! Bring warm clothes you can layer on and off as needed. Bring lightweight, non-bulky options you can stuff into your reusable bag and pull out when you want them. Don’t rely on the hospital having a spare blanket around for you, because that’s not guaranteed.
#6: A pillow
When you visit your NICU baby, you’re going to spend a lot of time in a chair. You might even fall asleep in one. A small pillow is a great item to make that experience just a little more comfortable.
Plus, if you had a C-section, you can press it against your incision when you laugh, cough, or sneeze, and it’ll be less painful.
Related reading: 10 Things I Learned About C-sections by Having One
#7: A big swaddle or robe
Chances are, you’ll be doing a lot of skin-to-skin (also called kangaroo care). You’ll want to have a muslin blanket to stretch over baby and tuck around your sides. Alternatively, you can use a robe to wrap around baby. Just make sure the fabric isn’t too heavy or hot; you don’t want to overheat baby, as your body heat will radiate quite a bit.
#8: Extra clothes for you and your partner
If you have an unexpected NICU baby, you might stay at the hospital longer than you anticipated. After I was discharged, our hospital let us stay in our room for a few extra days on a policy called “hospitality,” as long as no one else needed the room. We stayed at the hospital until Lydia was eventually discharged.
We ran out of clothes and had to have someone bring us stuff from home. This meant an extra phone call trying to remember where everything was and figuring out what we needed when it was the last thing on my mind. It was extra mental energy and time that we could’ve spent sleeping or with Lydia. I wish we had just had some extra clothes packed in a separate bag that we left in the car.
#9: Your own clothes or accessories for baby
Personalizing a little can make all the difference in the NICU. The first day, I brought in the hat from her going-home outfit and put it on her head, and suddenly she felt a little more like our baby. I tried a head band on her a couple times as well. These were small things, but they went a long way to make me feel like I had some kind of agency over my child.
#10: Visitors, if they’re allowed
Visitor policy differs across NICU facilities (and I’m writing this in 2020, during COVID-19, so this probably isn’t even relevant for anyone right now, but I intend for this post to be up for a long time). We were allowed to have 3 people at a time to visit our daughter, as long as one of them was her mom or dad. You might be thinking, “No way; I wouldn’t want visitors either way,” and that’s totally fine! But hear me out.
The NICU is way more fun with family and friends! They’re dying to meet your baby, they’d love to see you, and their presence and gushing over your baby helps remind you that again, it’s not just about getting your baby home; it’s about enjoying him or her now, too!
Bonus: A Future Mindset
This isn’t an item, but it may just be one of the most important things you can bring to the NICU experience. It’s a huge mental health step you can take to ease your transition to being home.
You’ll spend the entire time in the NICU working towards getting your baby discharged, but you may be so focused on that goal that you overlook what comes after graduation.
The first few days and weeks of your baby’s life are your training course and introduction to motherhood. They’re the time you start to learn your baby and master the basics of taking care of him or her. As a NICU mama, you’ll be at a disadvantage in this area in several ways: you’ll have astronomically more help in the NICU than at home, you’ll have monitors to tell you way more information about your baby than the average mama gets, and you’ll have tons of resources all under one roof.
If you don’t intentionally curb the habits you pick up in the NICU from relying on these things, you’ll set yourself up for a much harder transition to real life at home.
So rely on help, but remember that you’re assuming full responsibility for your baby when you leave.
Utilize the resources you have at your disposal, but learn with a mindset of what taking care of baby will look like at home. Ask for phone numbers and ways to seek support after discharge if you need help once you’re gone.
As much as you can, try not to make yourself dependent on the monitors to know your baby is okay. Watch them, but watch your baby more. Learn their signs. Pay attention to their skin color and their breathing. Start developing your gut and learning how to trust it.
Similarly, start studying your baby to learn the cues they give off for their needs. Figure out what they’re like when they’re hungry. Attune your nose to the smell of a much-needed diaper change. Discover your baby’s little personality and mood quirks. Eventually, you won’t be following a rigid schedule anymore, and you’ll need to learn how to figure out what your baby needs.
Blessings to you and your baby
May you never need this information, mama! I hope your birth goes smoothly and your baby adjusts well to life outside the womb. But in case things do go wrong and your baby needs more care, I pray these items help lessen your load, and the bonus item paves your way home. Just know I believe this with all my heart: you’re going to make it through.
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