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Bringing Baby Home: Lessons Learned from Former NICU Parents

Inova Loudoun Hospital is home to an on-site Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – Loudoun County’s only NICU. This article was written by the hospital’s NICU Parent Advisory Committee. For NICU family support at Inova Loudoun Hospital, please call 703-858-8741.

Inova Loudoun Hospital is committed to the best care for expectant parents and their babies. This includes seamless access to an on-site Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – Loudoun County’s only NICU. 

While few families plan for a NICU stay, premature birth, complications during delivery and emergencies do unfortunately happen. Childbirth is a complex process and specialized care is required in 7 – 10 percent of deliveries – even with the best of care. 

For NICU parents, discharge from the hospital is an exciting time – but, it can also be very overwhelming.  The NICU Parent Advisory Committee at Inova Loudoun Hospital crafted a helpful list of “lessons learned” for parents getting ready to take their little ones home: 

  • Be familiar with your baby’s normal characteristics prior to discharge from the NICU. Be able to recognize the normal sights and sounds – breathing, crying, skin tone, temperature and eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Be prepared in case of any emergency. Know when you need to call your baby’s doctor. Always call if you have questions or concerns and speak up for the care your baby needs. Keep a copy of your child’s discharge summary with you at all times.
  • Share as much information as you can with caretakers. This includes daycare providers, babysitters and family members. This will help them to understand what is normal and the possible signs of an emergency. Make sure that they have a copy of your baby’s discharge summary and doctor’s contact information.
  • Work to develop a routine for eating and sleeping. This will help the baby settle into the routine and will also help others who take care of your little one. If possible, sleep when the baby sleeps!  Remember to always use safe-sleeping practices to avoid SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Breastfeeding your preemie is possible! While it may initially be challenging, it is possible for a NICU graduate to eventually exclusively breastfeed. Work with the NICU nurses and lactation department at Inova Loudoun Hospital – they are wonderful! Your baby’s ability to successfully breastfeed will improve over time.
  • Be ready for people to help! Have a prepared list of possible ways for your support system to help you (e.g. vacuum, fold laundry, bring meals, load dishwasher, run errands, watch older children, etc.).  If possible, have someone else schedule help and meals so you can focus on taking care of your baby.
  • Understanding milestones. A preemie’s milestones (e.g. smiling, rolling, walking, talking, sleeping through the night, etc.) may not match those of their same-aged peers. It will take more time and they will most likely develop according to their adjusted age (their original due date). Give baby “tummy time” each day and other developmentally appropriate activities to encourage further development. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
  • Protect your baby from germs. When it comes to keeping your little one healthy and away from germs, it is always OK to be protective!  Wash hands often, ask people not to touch, ask visitors to stay away until your baby is healthier and stronger, make sure sick people are not around your baby at any time. Even the common cold could potentially hospitalize your baby. Be extremely careful during RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) season which runs November – March.  Even as your baby continues to grow, s/he may be more susceptible to germs – so, always be careful!
  • Find a pediatrician who has experience working with preemies.  They will be a wonderful resource and will most likely be more mindful of common complications with babies born premature. Do not hesitate to switch doctors if you are not satisfied. The NICU can provide you with a list of local pediatricians. Please feel free to contact any of these doctors to inquire about their experience with preterm infants. 
  • Discover the other specialists you should follow-up with or get information from. This can include physical therapists, pulmonologists, digestive specialists, ophthalmologists and home health nurses. Refer to your discharge orders and consult with your pediatrician.
  • Always be an advocate for you and your baby. Do your best to understand the hospital’s discharge papers. Do not hesitate to ask questions and work as partners with the doctors you see. It can be overwhelming at first, so just do your best.
  • Keep the big picture in focus. Remember that although there will be setbacks, the overall progress is the most important thing! This includes growth, milestones, eating and sleeping. You can do it!

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