NICU Survival Checklist

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, but I would recommend them anyway even if it didn’t. It just means Amazon will kick a few pennies on the dollar my way if you end up buying anything through the links. I would use all proceeds for Reggie’s medical expenses, Scout’s honor. 

Now, I realize that this is a very niche post, as very few parents have the advantage as we did of being reasonably certain ahead of time that our baby would end up in the NICU. But I was frantically scouring the Internet for NICU advice posts, and let me tell you, I found precious few. So, if I can help just one person out a little bit with this post, I’ll be happy.

Regina spent 24 agonizing days in the NICU. It’s a strange situation. You feel like you are in parenting Limbo, torn between two places and not really belonging in either one. Stay strong, mama! This difficult time is only a temporary one. I never know how to introduce these list posts, so, carry on!

  • Receiving Blankets

A very kind family with a NICU graduate from our hospital brought these blankets as a gift for all the NICU babies, and they were my favorite. The hospital receiving blankets are fine, but they are constant depressing reminder that your baby is still in the hospital. So it was really nice to have something for Regina that felt more like home. These blankets are sturdy enough to withstand all of the many stains they will inevitably sustain, yet are still soft and cozy.

  • Entertainment
My sister got me this book, and it was my mainstay during Regina’s time in the NICU. There is a lot of down time during shift changes and in between touch times. It was also nice during my lonely lunches. Which brings me to gift cards. A dear friend got me a Chick Fil A gift card (thank you, Rosie!), which saved my life! There was a CFA right across the street from the hospital and it was so nice to have an option besides the hospital cafeteria for lunch every day. So, if you are wondering how you can help a loved one whose baby is in the NICU, that is a brilliant gift.

  • Outfits for baby

It depends on the NICU, but mine allowed us to bring the baby outfits from home and they were really good about keeping the home clothes separate from the hospital laundry. They would simply give me a paper bag with all of her dirty clothes and receiving blankets to wash at home and bring back. I’ve heard some NICUs recommend you put your name in sharpie on the home items and some don’t allow you to bring clothing and blankets from home at all. You will have to inquire at your hospital to see what their policies are. If you are allowed to bring outfits from home, the best outfits to bring are sleepers to keep them warm that have snap fronts so that all of the various cords and wires hanging off your baby can slip in between the snaps uninhibited. You can do a gown too, but my nurses really hated it when I put her in a gown, and I wanted to make their jobs as easy as possible.

  • Gigantic Tote

You will use this all day, every day. Scott dropped me off each morning and I would haul this thing containing clean laundry for Regina, my water bottle (food isn’t allowed in the NICU, but you are permitted a water bottle if you are pumping or breastfeeding), my crossword puzzles, my breastmilk cooler, my pumping bra, my notebook and pen, and all of my breast pump parts. Also whatever personal items I needed for the day as I was still recovering from major surgery myself. When Scott picked me up on his way home from work, I was toting Regina’s dirty laundry, more breastmilk storage containers and labels, and dirty pump parts to wash. The daily grind in the NICU, y’all.

  • Cooler and ice pack for breast milk (if pumping)
So here is the deal with the NICU if you plan on feeding your baby breastmilk. They will give you a package of pump parts, which will include the tubing and the various bottle parts. These are your pump parts. There are many like it, but this one is yours. You will keep these pump parts with you wherever you go. (Emphasis the lactation consultant’s from my hospital.) When you go to the NICU and you need to pump, you ask the nurse for the NICU pump, and they will roll it out to you and you can hook up your pump parts to it. They will give you storage containers and special labels with your information on it for you to put the date and time pumped, and then you hand the milk over to the nurses to store. I would ask them for extra storage bottles and labels for me to take home so that I could pump at home and bring more milk with me to the NICU. Hence, the need for the cooler and ice packs. This one worked well since the NICU storage bottles were really similar to these ones.

  • Hands free pumping bra

I don’t know why it made things less awkward when people came bustling in and out for me to be wearing this while pumping, but it did. It was also nice to have my hands free so that I could read or do my crossword or whatever during those 15 minute sessions.

  • Portable Hand Cream

Because all of that scrubbing in and hand sanitizer is BRUTAL on your hands.

  • Lovey

A fellow NICU mama gifted me something like this (thank you, Jenna!), and instructed me to sleep with it so that it will smell like me and then I can put it in Regina’s isolette. It gave me some comfort knowing that Regina would have a piece of mama always there with her when I had to leave her and go home.

Other miscellaneous items I really appreciated were my rosary card so that I could pray rosaries there without worrying about my rosary getting tangled up in my tote or losing a precious rosary. Other NICU parents liked having a little mini speaker (like this one) to play some soothing music for you and baby (the sounds of monitors beeping and other babies wailing gets tedious and upsetting sometimes), but I just liked singing to Regina. Other NICU parents said they liked bringing books in to read to baby as well. I know Regina just loved hearing my voice. She always looked my way when she heard it. You will also need to bring in a notebook or binder and a pen, because you will want to take notes as to what all the specialists are telling you and you will need somewhere to keep all of the papers and forms the social worker will hand you.

It’s crowdsourcing time! Fellow NICU mamas! What were your survival tips and must-haves for the NICU?

10 thoughts on “NICU Survival Checklist

  1. mglalala

    I just finally caught up with little Reggie and, Sylvia, she is so adorable. She kind of reminds me of Rosie as a baby! My thoughts are with y’all!

  2. Ashley P

    I do not have any social media accounts so I am thankful that those who I follow do not have their pages blocked. Thank you for the prayers.

  3. Ashley P

    I check your instagram for updates but cannot comment because I do not have an account. My son had torticollis. We used chiropractor therapy (I use it for everything actually lol) and his neck straightened out in a few weeks. I’m sure whatever path you choose to correct it will work out for her. She is beautiful and I love seeing your updates. I am due for my 4th in 4 weeks. Same St. Therese interventions 🙂

    1. Post author

      Do you use Facebook? I’ve been thinking about connecting my Instagram to my Facebook blog page. That is so good to know! Yeah, I’m not going to rule out chiro, if what we’re doing isn’t helping. Too many people say that it works! Praying for a safe and easy delivery! Congratulations!!! St. Therese is such a wonderful intercessor.

  4. Kailey

    Yes to all of these! We also could not have made it without travel neck pillows for all the long hours you spend sitting in the hosptial chairs in the room. I also really liked having headphones so I could listen to music when I needed a break from hearing all the beeping machines. The noises of the NICU can start to wear on you and make you anxious after hours and hours. Keep your head up and stay strong, this is only for a season. The days seem long, but you’ll be on the other side in no time!

  5. mbmom7

    I would suggest that you have NICU tour from a nice staff person while you are there. Often, you wind up there at a weird hour of the night, with a lot of trauma and questions, and practical matters may not seem important. However, if you’ll be there for days or weeks, it would be good to know where the parents’ lounge is, where the nutrition room is (they had snacks! and I never knew it!! I spent a fortune in the vending machine….), where you should put your pumped milk (I never knew so the poor aide got stuck hauling it off all the time). I never stayed too long in the NICU on any given day (splitting time between kids at home and the baby) so it was hard to figure out these things on my own.

    Having a phone/tablet with Skype to be able to talk to people and make connections (and show if sweet baby) was priceless.

    1. Post author

      All excellent advice. I’m sure I didn’t take advantage of half the amenities there either.

  6. Anne

    Yes to all of this! The hand lotion, the hands free bra! And especially the receiving blankets…the nurses would use the ones we brought as sheets for our NICU baby’s crib and it definitely made things more homey. For preemies, I’d also recommend the my preemie app. It has a daily journal to record setbacks and milestones as well as a glossary with explanations of all the jargon. It’s the closest we have to a baby book, actually. PS Regina is the highlight of my instagram feed. Keeping you all in our prayers!

    1. Post author

      Thank you! Yes, our nurses used the blankets as her isolette sheets too and it is amazing what a difference it makes.

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