NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. It is a special unit for babies born preterm, or very early. Most babies born very early will need special care after birth.
Your delivery may have taken place in a hospital that has a NICU. If not, you and your baby may have been moved to a hospital with a NICU to receive special care.
When babies are born early, they have not yet finished growing. So, they will not look like a baby that was carried a full 9 months.
Other things you may notice:
Your baby will be put in an enclosed, see-through plastic crib called an incubator. This special crib will:
Your baby will wear a cap so the head will stay warm.
There will likely be tubes and wires attached to the baby. This can seem scary to new parents. They are not hurting the baby.
It is normal for parents to feel nervous or scared to have a baby in the NICU. You can lessen these feelings by:
Even though your baby is inside a special crib, it is still important for you to touch your baby. Talk with the nurses about touching and talking to your baby.
Cuddling with your baby against your skin, called “kangaroo care,” will also help you bond. It won’t be long before you see things you would have seen had the baby been born full-term -- like your baby’s smile, and your baby grasping your fingers.
After giving birth, your body will need some time to rest and recover. Your feelings may also hit highs and lows. You may feel the joy of being a new mom one moment, but anger, fear, guilt, and sadness the next.
Having a baby in the NICU is stressful enough. But these ups and downs can also be caused by hormone changes after childbirth.
In some women, the changes may lead to feeling sad and depressed. If you are having a hard time with your emotions, ask for the social worker in the NICU. Or, talk to your doctor. It is okay to ask for help.
By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your baby too. Your baby needs your love and touch to grow and improve.
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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