Your baby may have been on the unit for a few days or many weeks.
When they are getting near to being able to come home you may have mixed feelings. Excited to be together as a family, but probably nervous about caring for your baby without the neonatal team close by. It is normal to feel this way.
Babies are only discharged when their medical team are confident they are well enough. Being home with you is the best place for your baby to be as soon as they are strong enough. It will probably feel strange to begin with and can take a little while for you and your baby to settle. There are services to reassure and support you.
Having your baby home is a big and exciting step. Having a baby on the neonatal unit is stressful and often not what you expected to happen. It can take time for stress levels to settle. It might feel very strange to begin with.
Sometimes babies seem less settled when they first get home. This can come as a shock but it is very common.
Babies are very tuned in to how their parents are feeling, as you relax into having your baby home, things will settle down for you all.
When Baby is Unsettled
One of the things that can help on those unsettled days is to hold your baby. You will probably have had times on the neonatal unit when you could not just cuddle your baby whenever you wanted to. Now you can make up for lost time!
Read more about advice on safe sling use
Being with a crying baby is not easy. It can feel like you are ‘getting it wrong.’ Try not to be too hard on yourself. Even when you can’t work out why your baby is upset they are learning that you always try to help them. This helps them feel safe and secure.
Small babies use crying as one of their ways to communicate with us. It lets you know they need you. The days (and nights!) when they cry a lot are always tough! Remember - all Babies cry, although this doesn't make it easier when your baby is crying, there is advice and support available.
Your baby’s arrival did not happen as you imagined. This may have been a very stressful time for you both in different ways. Give each other time to settle back into home life and try and offer each other the support and encouragement you need.
Babies benefit from spending time with their parents / carers and it is a special time as you get used to having your baby home.
It will be hard and tiring at times too and this can put a strain on relationships.
Having a new baby is always a big life event and having a baby who needed extra care after birth is not easy.
You may notice that you and / or your partner’s mental health has been affected. It is important to get help if your mental health is making it hard to cope with daily life and spoiling your enjoyment of time with your family. Everyone benefits when parents take care of themselves too.
You have probably had offers of help from family and friends whilst your baby has been on the unit. Now is a good time to call in those favours. People like to help and it will free you up to spend time with your baby.
Some family and friends will be desperate to see your baby now they are home. This may be just what you want too. Or you may want some quiet time with your baby whilst you settle in.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to give you space if that feels right for you. You have had to wait for this special time. Let people know how you feel and that you are grateful for their care but need time to settle in.
It is ok to change your mind too – if you are having a hard day and needs some moral support ask family and friends to pop round.
When friends and family visit you may not feel ready for others to hold the baby and this is fine. If you do want your baby to be held by special friends and family ask them to wash their hands well first. Hygiene is important and will reduce any worry you might have about germs.
Take a look at this video filmed by a parent at home to share her thoughts about meeting with other parents who babies have experienced time in a neonatal unit.
Big Brothers & Sisters
Older brothers and sisters may have had a very confusing time whilst their new sibling has been on the unit. They will probably have had to have changes to routines and may not have been able to spend as much time with you as before.
The baby coming home is the beginning of getting things back to ’normal’ but can be tough for children as they get used to all the changes.
Children can be clingy and demanding of your attention as they recover from the stress. Their behaviour may be more challenging. They are showing you that they have missed you. They need to be reassured that they are important to you and that all will be ok.
It takes time for the whole family to adjust to the arrival home of the baby. Be patient with your older children and yourself, as you settle in.
You might worry about other people getting too near to your baby. Many parents feel this way with a newborn. This can feel more worrying after the experience of having a baby that has needed extra care.
People may be interested and want to admire your tiny baby but it is ok to ask people to step back, and to not touch.
If your child has something visible that shows they still need extra care you might want to practice how you would like to answer any questions;
‘He has milk through the tube at the moment until he gets stronger’ or ‘She is having some oxygen through the tubes until her lungs grow bigger’.
Remember if you don’t feel like answering, or notice people looking, you can just smile and carry on!
Getting Out & About
You may well feel the need to stay in for the first few days after your baby has been discharged. This can be a good idea as you get used to being at home. You can see how your baby adapts to the temperature of your house. You will start to see what pattern of waking, feeding and sleeping your baby is following. It will do you and your baby good to get out of the house once you feel ready.
As long as your baby’s medical team have not advised otherwise and your baby can maintain their temperature, you can go out and about.
To begin with check your baby’s temperature regularly by feeling the back of their neck or tummy (hands and feet are often cooler in small babies). Put on or take off layers as needed. You will soon get used to the right amount of clothes and covers for your baby.
Going out can feel like a big deal to begin with and it is natural to feel a bit worried. Try close to home first. You might decide to go with your partner or a friend to begin with, or arrange to meet them nearby.
It can help if you feel organised. Have a ‘going out’ bag that you top up with things you might need. Have feeding equipment, wipes, nappies and extra clothes. Take any medication they might need whilst you are out.
If your baby gets upset remember all babies cry; most of the ‘funny looks’ from others that you might sense will be looks of sympathy. Lots of people will remember when this happened to them!
Do what you can to settle your baby. Remember if it all feels too much you can just go home and try again another day.
Take a look at video below which a parent has filmed to share her experience with others.
Some babies seem to get wind that they swallow during feeds, or from when they are crying. Some find burping or farting easy and their wind does not cause them any trouble. Others babies seem to;
All babies are different and you will find the ‘little ways’ that help your child burp over time. As a rule you can help your baby part with their wind more easily by;
Some babies need to stop during their feed to be winded, others are fine until the end of the feed. Some just don’t seem to need winding, be led by your baby.
What Can I Do To Help?
Babies often just want to be held and comforted if wind is bothering them.
Trying to stay relaxed yourself can help your baby relax and the wind be released more easily.
By the time your baby is around three months old wind is often less of a problem. Their digestive system is more mature and you have got to know what works for them better.
Babies who have needed extra help may have been offered a dummy during their stay in hospital. A dummy can be helpful in the early days to promote sucking particularly when babies are having tube feeds. It can also be used to comfort babies when they are undergoing procedures.
Once your baby is at home it is helpful to reduce the amount of time your baby has a dummy, maybe offering the dummy just at sleep time. Read more about using a dummy when putting your baby down to sleep.
When your baby shows feeding readiness signs like waking, rooting, licking and sucking, they should be offered the breast / bottle rather than the dummy.
Where possible the dummy should be gently withdrawn between 6 and 12 months, to avoid possible longer-term problems associated with dummy use such as ear infections or misalignment of teeth.
General guidelines for using dummies
Baby Massage is a great way for parents to bond with their new baby. Some of the benefits of baby massage are listed below or you can watch the short video. The Hamlet Centre offers free sessions about baby massage as part of their Nurture group.
Baby massage can;
Remember - Don't try to massage your baby if they are in a fussy mood, tired or asleep.
You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
Qwell provides free, safe and anonymous mental wellbeing support for adults in Norfolk and Waveney from a professional team of qualified counsellors.
The Hamlet Centre provides nurture groups for babies and families who have spent time on the Neonatal Unit. They cover a range of topics that will be useful to you like weaning and baby massage as well as giving you the chance to talk with other families who have had a similar experience to you. The service is available to families living in Norfolk and Waveney.
'All Things NICU Norfolk' Facebook group - A support group for anyone connected to NICU, including parents and professionals. The group shares information about development and promotes local groups and fundraising.
Early Childhood and Family Service supports all Norfolk families with children under 5 years.
To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.