What to expect when your newborn needs NICU care


If you have a baby who is born too early or has serious health problems, he or she may be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, a hospital unit that provides around-the-clock specialized care to newborns.

If you or someone close to you is pregnant, understanding what to expect if a NICU stay is required can help you focus on taking care of the new baby and yourself.

Learn the ins and outs of the NICU with information from March of Dimes, the nation’s leading nonprofit that advocates for the health of all moms and babies, which partners with hospitals across the country through its NICU Family Support® program to provide in-person and online support for families with babies in the NICU. 

Common NICU conditions 

Babies born too early and other sick newborns may face a variety of medical issues. Among common causes for a NICU stay may include preterm birth, complications during labor and delivery, birth defects, genetic conditions or other illnesses.

Tests to expect 

Your baby may have tests and monitoring done in the NICU to determine health conditions and treatments for him or her to grow and be healthy. Some tests, like blood tests, are common. Others are just for babies with certain health conditions. Depending on his or her condition, your baby might need scans or imaging to find out what’s happening. You can also expect various screenings for vision and hearing, and monitoring for things like weight changes and urine tests, which can tell health care providers about your baby’s overall condition.

Coping with the stress

When your baby is in the NICU, it may be hard to think about taking care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself can help you stay well and have more energy to spend time with your baby. 

Stick to a daily routine. Every day, take a shower, eat regular meals, drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep. As part of your routine, decide when you want to be with your baby in the NICU. Schedule breaks from the NICU.

Follow COVID-19 protocols while connecting with other NICU families at NICU classes, in the family lounge or in the NICU hallways. They may understand what you’re experiencing and be able to offer guidance. You can find a supportive online environment that provides advice and resources, and allows you to connect with communities of other NICU families that have had similar experiences, at marchofdimes.org/online-communities.aspx. 

You may experience many emotions when your baby’s in the NICU. Talking to a counselor may help you sort through your feelings. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to someone trained to help you work through stress and navigate challenges like going back to work, the baby blues or postpartum depression.

Paying for your baby’s stay 

Health insurance helps pay for medical care. If your insurance doesn’t cover all the health care costs for your baby, ask the NICU social worker or case manager about your options. A social worker can assist you with finding resources and services to help care for your baby. You can also meet with the hospital’s finance department about setting up a payment plan. A case manager may also oversee a baby’s discharge from the hospital and help set up home care services and supplies, if needed.

Learn more about the NICU and find articles and resources for your family at marchofdimes.org/NICU or by downloading the My NICU Baby App.  (Family Features) 

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