Life After the NICU

6 tip to transition from the NICU to home.

Life After the NICU

The day you bring your baby home is a happy one. But what if baby had to spend time in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)? Though you’re probably excited to finally take your little one home, having to walk away from all the security of the hospital nursery can be daunting.

As a postpartum doula, I have had the pleasure of meeting many new families and have especially loved helping those who have had babies in the NICU. Infants who go to the unit are usually admitted right after birth -- whether it is because they were born prematurely, experienced complications during delivery or showed signs of sickness within the first few days of life. The length of a NICU stay depends on the severity of baby’s condition. It may be days, weeks or even months before you get to take him home, and while you wait, you can prepare for the journey that is life after the NICU. Since I know how nerve-wracking it can be, I want to help you adjust to your post-NICU life and share a few tips.

Here are 6 things you can do to keep the transition from the NICU to home as smooth as possible.

  1. Create a safe, slow transition to home. If you are going home with a premature baby, you may find that you still have a lot left to do to prepare the house for baby. And that’s ok. You first need to be easy on yourself: don’t try to do everything at once, and don’t rush. Get help. For example, have someone clean your house and get groceries before you get home, in preparation for your new family. I accompany clients during this transition and serve as an extra set of hands to help strap in the car seat and get all the discharge paperwork together. Once they are home, I do everything I can to help them feel ready to start their new journey. This first-day support is key.
  2. Feed your baby AND yourself. This sounds simple, but there can be so much going on, and feeding yourself can end up being really stressful. So for this as well, take it easy and get the help you need to prep your food while you focus on feeding your baby. If your little one is a preemie and you want to exclusively breastfeed him or her, you may need a little scaffolding -- additional tools, like nipple shields, hospital-grade pump and supplemental nursing system -- to help your little one latch. But remember that “fed [not breast] is best,” and your baby loves you whether you nurse or bottle feed. During the first few post-NICU days, an overnight postpartum doula can be a great support for nighttime feeds, when parents are too tired to wash pump parts or assemble feeding tools.
  3. Get emotional backup. As many parents who have NICU babies focus on keeping it together while their infants are at the hospital, a lot of the emotions surrounding the birth or the intensive care experience do not surface until they’re home. And when they do surface, they can take them by surprise. So it’s important to have a few friends, family members or a counselor to help you navigate the transition and your emotions. To take it even one step further, surround yourself with “yes people,” and avoid those who aren’t supportive and helpful. One thing that my clients appreciate about my being there with them is that I reassure them. I tell them that everything is ok and normal and encourage them to trust themselves. As with most things in life, it doesn’t hurt to have someone saying ‘yes, you can!’ on your team.
  4. Say “yes” to help… But only on your terms. There are many times in life when you just need to suck it up and get on with it. This is not one of those times. If someone wants to come and do your laundry and make dinner, let them. Getting the help you need is important and necessary. However, if the people who are supposed to help start stressing and burdening you, make sure to set boundaries. What’s more, the help shouldn’t come at the expense of your bonding time or routine. Being in the NICU can be overwhelming for babies, and as they are being manipulated for medical interventions, they often miss out on that bonding touch they so desperately need. So don’t let anyone overstep his or her role, and don’t let anyone hold your baby if you don’t want them to or if you feel you need more time to bond. Which brings me to my next point…
  5. Make bonding your priority. Babies who are getting out of the NICU need to reconnect with their parents. So for the first couple of days or weeks, you and your partner should spend as much time as possible in skin-to-skin contact with baby. Baby massage and slow gentle baths are a really good way to use intentional gentle touch. I’m also a firm believer of the concept of, “a relaxed parent equals a relaxed baby” and often encourage parents of NICU babies to sing and play music. It’s not just that music is beneficial for the brain development of preemies. Singing relaxes your body, as your breathing needs to regulate in order to create a sound, and your baby takes their cues from you.
  6. Trust Your Instincts. When they are in the NICU, babies are often on a strict feeding schedule to gain weight. Once at home, parents usually have to keep up with the schedule, so it’s easy for everything to feel very measured and controlled. Parents who rely on such rigorous timetable can forget how to trust their instincts. Once your pediatrician advised you that you no longer have to frequently wake your baby for feedings, do your best to veer away from your strict routine. This will allow you to tune in with your baby’s cues and needs, as well as with your instincts as a new parent -- all of this without being interrupted by all the NICU procedures, finally!

Written by Emily Varnam, a birth and postpartum doula. Emily is co founder of The Fifth Vital Sign. A birth and postpartum doula, midwive's assistant, birth control doula, placenta encapsulation specialist, and holds a degree in counseling and mentoring. She has been working with newborns and families since age seven and her goal is to be able to take people's hands during puberty and walk with them through every stage of reproductive health. Learn more about her work here.

Photography by Laura Vladimirova of Natural Birth Bebe.

In This Article

    The HATCH Mama collection is everything your pregnant body needs right now

    Their oil is the only thing that stopped my belly from itching as it grew bigger.

    Conz Preti

    Let me start by saying I'm not a fan of moisturizing. I hate being wet and sticky and after applying product to my body, I have to stand around awkwardly until I'm fully air-dried—a practice that is not compatible with having three kids under the age of 3. However, as someone who has carried three children in her body, I also know how much your belly needs hydration as the baby grows.

    This was especially true with my second pregnancy. My belly popped way sooner (a thing that happens with subsequent pregnancies) and on top of that, I was carrying twins, which meant I became super pregnant super fast. My belly was itching constantly from the skin stretching (I checked with my doctor to make sure I didn't have Cholestasis) and there was no scratching in the world that could ease my discomfort. My doula recommended the HATCH Mama belly oil and changed my life. The oil is nourishing—but more important to me, quick-drying—so I could apply it all over my planet-sized twin belly and get dressed immediately after without having my clothes ruined nor stuck to my body. Because of how much I loved the oil, I tested other products, and let me tell you, they're all equally amazing.

    Curious about the HATCH Mama collection? All of their products are non-toxic and mama-safe, designed to help pregnant people overcome the challenges unique to pregnancy. As their website claims, "from stretch marks to thinning hair, to sleepless nights, we're helping you tackle every prenatal and postnatal beauty issue head-on so you can continue to feel like the best version of you." I'm here for all of this. For the entire Hatch Beauty collection click here.


    Here are my favorite products from HATCH Mama:


    Belly oil

    HATCH COLLECTION  Belly Oil

    Intensely hydrating + fantastic at reducing the appearance of stretch marks and scars, this will be your favorite through pregnancy + beyond.

    $58

    Belly mask

    HATCH COLLECTION  Belly Mask Set

    Not only does it help to minimize the appearance of stretch masks + scars during pregnancy + postpartum, but there is a little non-toxic wink (and that's to you, mama.)

    $42

    Nipple + lip ointment 

    HATCH COLLECTION  Nipple + Lip

    Calming + soothing, this magic sauce is lanolin-free & made of tropical butters and super fruits. I'm not lying when I say you will not want to stop using this, even way after birth.

    $28

    Belly tattoos

    HATCH COLLECTION  Belly Tattoos

    A very rock and roll way to honor your bump. And non-toxic + plant-based at that!

    $18

    This article was originally published in March 2021. It has been updated.

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

    Shop

    Motherly created the flexible online birth class moms need

    The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Taking a birth class is a pregnancy milestone. Whether you've been excited to take a birth class for a long time or have just recently decided that you wanted to take one, sitting down for that first lesson feels big—spoiler alert, this is really happening! But finding time for a birth class isn't as easy as it would seem.

    We know new parents are busy (hello, understatement of the year). Between diaper changes, pediatrician appointments, healing from birth and the general adjustment to #newparentlife, the days can fill up quickly. But a lot of people are caught off guard by how busy pregnancy can be, too! That first trimester is so often full of symptoms—like nausea and fatigue—that can make previously easy or simple tasks exhausting. The second trimester begins and (usually) we start to feel better. But then our days get filled with planning out baby registries and deciding on questions like, "Where will this tiny new human sleep?" And before you know it, it's the third trimester—and, well, then you're in the home stretch. Plus there are so many appointments!

    All this to say that we get how busy you are—and how hard that might make it to fit in a birth class.

    And that's why we created The Motherly Birth Class. The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.


    Think you'll want to watch each lesson a few times over? Great!

    Due date's next week and you need the option to take a birth class very quickly? No problem!

    Like everything at Motherly, we designed this class with you in mind.

    Taught by Certified Nurse-Midwife Diana Spalding (who also wrote "The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama"), this class is broken into 12 lessons—and you get to control how and when you watch them. We'll teach you about what your (amazing) body is up to in labor, how to decide when it's time to head to the hospital or birth center (or when to call your home birth midwife), what your options are for coping with pain and so much more.

    When you sign up for The Motherly Birth Class, you'll get access to a downloadable workbook and meditations. Plus, you'll be invited to join our supportive private online community (where you can chat with the class instructor!)

    Oh, one more thing: Your insurance or flexible spending account might even able to able to cover the cost of this class.

    Pregnancy is wonderful—but it's a lot. You deserve a birth class that works for you and empowers you to have your best birth. Because vaginal or Cesarean, unmedicated or medication, birth is incredible. And you are the star of it all.

    You've got this.

    Sign up for The Motherly Birth Class today!

    The Motherly Birth Class

    pregnant-woman-looking-at-her-belly

    Take our completely digital birth class from the comfort of your living room. We'll help you have your best birth—because you deserve it.

    $79

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

    Shop
    BABYBJÖRN

    This post is sponsored by BABYBJÖRN. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

    popular

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

    So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.


    Secret Agent play set

    Plan-Toys-Secret-agent-play-set

    This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    Stepping Stones

    Stepping-stones

    Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.

    $99.99

    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

    $120

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Sensory play set

    kidoozie-sand-and-splash-activity-table

    Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $19.95

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Foam pogo stick

    Flybar-my-first-foam-pogo-stick

    Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.

    $16.99

    Dumptruck 

    green-toys-dump-truck

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.

    $22

    Hopper ball

    Hopper ball

    Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.

    $14.99

    Pull-along ducks

    janod-pull-along-wooden-ducks

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $16.99

    Rocking chair seesaw

    Slidewhizzer-rocking-chair-seesaw

    This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.

    $79.99

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $79.99

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

    Shop

    New line of Barbie dolls includes a COVID vaccine developer

    Six female scientists and global frontline workers are honored in Mattel's latest Barbie line.

    Mattel

    Barbie celebrates role models in a variety of different careers—over 200 to be exact—and their newest line is no exception. The continuation of the "Play it Forward" platform (that Mattel, Inc. uses to give back to communities in times of need) will now honor six real-life female scientists who have been integral during the pandemic, including a COVID vaccine developer.

    It was announced today that Barbie will donate $5 for each eligible Barbie doctor, nurse and paramedic doll sold at Target to the First Responders Children's Foundation (FRCF), a charity that benefits the children of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.


    "Barbie recognizes that all frontline workers have made tremendous sacrifices when confronting the pandemic and the challenges it heightened," said Lisa McKnight, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Mattel in a statement. "To shine a light on their efforts, we are sharing their stories and leveraging Barbie's platform to inspire the next generation to take after these heroes and give back. Our hope is to nurture and ignite the imaginations of children playing out their own storyline as heroes."

    One of the one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls is created in the likeness of British vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert, who helped lead the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. How cool is that? And what an inspirational toy for kids!

    Gilbert told The Guardian she hopes the dolls inspire other young women around the world to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers (STEM).

    "I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into STEM careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realize how vital careers in science are to help the world around us," she said. "My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist."

    The other five women recognized by Barbie and Mattel, Inc. are also role models amid the ongoing pandemic: Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz, a U.S. healthcare worker and advocate for anti-Asian racism, ER nurse Amy O'Sullivan, Canadian doctor and anti-racism advocate Chicka Stacy Oriuwa, Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus, and Australian doctor Kirby White, who helped develop protective gowns for healthcare professionals.

    Mattel's #ThankYouHeroes program was created in 2020 to honor those who have led the fight against COVID-19, as well as the everyday heroes who keep our communities up and running.

    Cheers to the new line of Barbie dolls, and may all the Barbie-lovers in our families find inspiration from these real-life heroes!

    News + Trending

    Car seat safety isn't a gray area: Why one mom's story is going viral

    She texted her husband to remind him to tighten the straps. Minutes later, he was in a car crash.

    This story was originally published on August 01, 2018

    For most parenting tasks, there's more than one way to get things done. This is important to remember if you're parenting with a partner who has a totally different laundry system than you do or packs the diaper bag in a way that makes no sense to you. It's not the end of the world if the onesies are hung instead of folded or if the bottles are in the wrong pocket. We have to give our partners room to do things their way, too.

    But when it comes to buckling our kids in their car seats, there really is only one way—the safe way—and one mama is thankful that she reminded her partner of that just in time.


    Rebecca Tafaro Boyer is a new mom and nurse at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. On her first day back at work after maternity leave she asked her husband to send her hourly updates on how her 3-month-old son, William, was doing on his first day without her.

    When her husband texted her a photo of William in his car seat, Tafaro Boyer knew she had to let her husband know that there's really only one way to buckle a baby in. "My nagging wife reply was to correct William's position in the car seat—the straps were too loose and the chest clip was way too low. And because I know my husband, I'm sure that he laughed at me and rolled his eyes before tightening the car seat and fixing the chest clip," she wrote in a now viral Facebook post about the experience.

    Just 15 minutes after her husband fixed the straps, he and little William were in a collision.

    According to Tafaro Boyer, an unlicensed, uninsured driver pulled into oncoming traffic attempting to make an illegal left turn, and although her husband slammed on the brakes at nearly 50 miles an hour, he just didn't have enough time to stop and hit the other car.

    "My precious little bundle of joy was so well restrained in his car seat, THAT HE DIDN'T EVEN WAKE UP. Even with the impact of the two cars, William only received a minor jolt - so insignificant that he was able to continue on with his nap," Tafaro Boyer wrote.

    Her husband was injured, but baby William was snug in his Britax B Safe 35 car seat. Had the straps been left as they were, it could have been a different story.

    "I am so thankful that my husband took the extra one minute that was necessary to put William in his car seat safely," she Tafaro Boyer explained. "I truly believe that the reason my family is at home sitting on the couch with a pair of crutches instead of down at the hospital is because of my annoying nagging mom voice."

    Fellow moms are all up in the comments of Tafaro Boyer's post tagging thier partners and leaving notes like, "This is why I nag."

    It's not nagging if it's a safety issue.

    Sometimes our partners (or our child's grandparents or babysitters) just don't know that something isn't safe. We've got to tell them when they're doing something we know could hurt our child. That's a text worth sending. The ones about the way your significant other folds the laundry wrong, those are the texts you might want to keep to yourself.

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      Car Seat Safety