Unlike a hospital nursery, which is usually a collection of small plastic bassinets filled with snugly sleeping babies, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is filled with rows of babies in incubators or isolettes, which look like large clear plastic containers. The thing that surprises parents most is the amount of medical equipment in the area -- respirators, warming tables, IVs, blood-pressure monitors -- which can be overwhelming. Some or all of the equipment will be used for your baby, depending upon his needs. But regardless of how much equipment surrounds him, you can still play a very active role in being a parent, which is important for parent-infant bonding.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, November 2006. Updated 2009