Special Babies, Special Care

Time Limits

How much time can parents spend with their baby in the NICU?

"Unless there's a serious emergency in the NICU or the baby needs to have some sort of procedure, a parent can spend the entire day there, reading to, talking to, and caring for her baby," Fumagalli says. "We also have services that allow parents to stay at the hospital or close by so they can be with their child as much as possible."

What's the average stay in the NICU?

There is no set amount of time, as each baby faces his own medical challenges. "Some fullterm kids have trouble breathing at birth and are out in 24 hours. Very young preemies may stay for months," says Fumagalli. A long stay in the NICU doesn't necessarily mean a poor health outcome for your child. Still, waiting to take your baby home is difficult. "It's especially tough for parents who have a preemie who needs to be in the NICU for a long time, because it seems like nothing is happening," she says. "It's important to realize that your baby is growing like she would in the womb, and that takes time."

What happens when the baby is ready to go home?

Babies leaving the NICU often go home with medicine and equipment such as oxygen tanks, and they may still have trouble feeding, so the nurses carefully train parents to make sure they know how to do everything to take care of their baby. "We also help them learn to distinguish between signs of distress and ordinary responses from their baby," says Fumagalli. "For example, a premature baby's heart rate may go up noticeably while she feeds, which is nothing to worry about. And parents can always call us with questions when they need to." Some families visit the NICU when their babies reach milestones months after they've been discharged. "We love to see the kids thriving and healthy," Fumagalli says. "It's a great reminder that the NICU isn't a horrible place. Most babies leave here and grow into happy, healthy kids. You'd never know that they ever had a health problem."

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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