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Learning About Discharge From the NICU

Bringing your baby home

The day you've been looking forward to—and worrying about—is finally coming. Your baby is going home. You may wonder if you and your baby are ready for the big event.

The NICU staff will make sure that your baby is ready to go home. And they'll help you get the support you need. A member of the staff will be in charge of planning your baby's discharge from the hospital. He or she will answer your questions about what will happen before and after your baby leaves the NICU.

The NICU staff will know that your baby is ready to go home when:

  • Your baby keeps gaining weight and can feed through a nipple. If your baby is gaining weight but still needs tube feeding, he or she still may be able to go home. You can set up the feeding equipment in your home. The NICU staff will teach you how to use it.
  • Your baby's body temperature stays normal in an open infant bed.
  • Your baby's heart rate and breathing rate stay normal for a week. If your baby still has breathing problems but is otherwise healthy, you may use portable oxygen at home. You may also have a device in your home to watch your baby's breathing.

The NICU staff will make sure that you know everything you need to know. They will teach you:

  • About your baby's feeding needs. The hospital staff will give you a feeding schedule. They will teach you what you need to know about feeding your baby at home.
  • How to do infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • How to safely transport your baby in the car.
  • How to arrange your home to set up any special equipment your baby may need.
  • How to handle any medicines or medical equipment your baby may need at home.

Before you and your baby go home, you'll meet with the hospital's discharge planner, the doctor, and the NICU staff. You'll discuss a medical care plan. The plan will include checkups, specialist care, and ongoing tests. This is a great time to ask any questions you may have. This is also a good time to make an appointment with your baby's regular doctor. The first appointment should be a few days after your baby comes home. The NICU staff will make sure that your baby's doctor has all the important health information to care for your baby.

Check to see if home-based health care and support are available in your area. Your hospital may offer home visits or home nursing care. The discharge planner or social worker can help you arrange it.

What can you expect?

  • Sleep helps your baby grow and develop. Your baby may sleep more than a full-term baby does, but for shorter periods of time. It may seem like a long time before your baby responds to you.
  • Your baby may be fussy and sensitive to light, sounds, touch, and movement. You can make your baby more comfortable by making a calm environment in your home. It also helps to hold your baby as much as possible.
  • The change from being a parent in the NICU to being a parent at home can be stressful. It's helpful to be open and honest and to talk about your daily challenges as well as your joys. Sometimes the best support comes from people who are facing the same things that you are. Your hospital may have a support group for families with preemies. There are support groups on the Internet too.
  • Remember that the hospital and your baby's doctor are just a phone call away if you have questions or problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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