By Heather Cresswell, NP
With anticipation, joy, and probably some nerves, you’ve been looking forward to the day you will bring your baby home from the NICU. Maybe your preemie has been in the NICU for several days, weeks, or even months. Those NICU days can feel like they are inching by, but discharge day can sneak up on you!
As NICU discharge gets closer, your nesting instinct may go into overdrive. Some parents have a long list of items they want to have on hand or thoughts of getting carpets cleaned and their home perfect. But if time and budgets don’t allow you to accomplish everything you had on your list, take a breath. The list of “must-haves” to bring your baby home from the NICU may be shorter than you think.
So, what are the “must-haves” before NICU discharge? Here are the basics.
A safe place for baby to sleep
I cannot stress the importance of safe sleeping practices for babies enough. All parents and caregivers should review safe sleeping information (follow this link).
Babies should sleep in a crib, bassinet or cradle. If space allows, this should be in the same room as a parent or caregiver. The sleeping surface needs to have a firm mattress and nothing else but a tight-fitted sheet. Sleep sacks can be used for warmth (no loose blankets).
Don’t wait until the last minute to get a car seat for your baby. You need time before discharge day to read the manual and practice with your car seat. Learn to install your car seat and adjust the straps before discharge day. Your baby’s nurse may be able to offer some tips as you buckle your baby in, but they won’t be with you for every car trip.
Things to look for in a car seat:
· Expiration date
· National Safety Mark (proof that the car seat meets Canadian safety standards). You can find a picture of the Safety Mark here.
· Height and weight cut-offs (many car seats can be used for babies as small as 4 pounds or 1.8 kg)
· Your car seat manual. Please, please, read your car seat manual. There are many, many brands and models of car seats, and your NICU nurse will not be familiar with all of them. Bring the manual with you the first time you will put your baby in the car seat, and keep a copy in your car.
· Transport Canada. Check out Canadian car seat guidelines here.
· Provincial and territory guidelines. Each province and territory may have their own car seat weight and age guidelines. Be sure to visit your provincial websites for more information.
· Manufacturer’s videos. Many car seat manufacturers have videos on their website or YouTube demonstrating how to install the seat and secure your baby.
· Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. This organization has online resources, and certifies Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPST). You may be able to find a car seat clinic near you, and some CPSTs also are available for paid consultation.
Feeding & Nutrition
If your baby will be bottle feeding, it’s a good idea to try the bottles you will use at home before NICU discharge. You can also ask your NICU team for recommendations for bottles and nipples. Sterilize your bottles and bring a couple to the NICU to try them out.
Talk to your baby’s team to see if they will recommend any special formulas or supplements, and purchase those at least 1-2 days before discharge if you can.
Prescriptions and medical supplies
If your baby is on any medication, ask for prescriptions a day or two before discharge.
If your baby needs special care (such as home oxygen or ostomy care), talk to your baby’s team about any supplies needed.
Diapers and clothing
Don’t go too crazy buying preemie-size clothing for your little one. Babies grow fast! The same goes for diapers in the preemie or newborn sizes. You need at least 3-4 outfits at a minimum.
So, there you have the “must-haves” when it comes to equipment and supplies to get you started:
1. A safe place for baby to sleep
2. A car seat (Canadian-approved and not expired)
3. Feeding supplies
5. Clothing and diapers
Are there more items you want to have and that are nice to have? Of course! But do you need them before you welcome your baby home? Usually not. Baby swings, toys, bathtubs and all those gadgets and toys that line the baby aisles can wait. Your baby needs a few necessities, and you.
Heather Cresswell is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and health writer. As a nursing student in 1995, Heather discovered the NICU during a clinical placement and never looked back. She has spent her entire nursing career (more than 25 years and counting) caring for NICU patients (premature babies are her favourite!). When not caring for her tiny patients, Heather is also a health writer and is happy to contribute to the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation.
Heather lives with her family in Burlington, Ontario, and is a proud mom to one son.