Visiting the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience. Before I had our twins, I had never been to this area of a hospital and I had no idea what it would be like. Truthfully, it was a lot different than I expected, and I think most of our visitors felt the same way. As much as I knew it might be difficult for people to visit, it also meant the world to us to have our friends and family see our tiny miracles up close and in person. So if your friend or family member has asked you to come and visit, just know that it is a special opportunity.
With this being said, I wish I had prepared our visitors a bit more with what they could expect to see, as well as told them about the rules of the NICU. Most units are incredibly structured and have strict rules.
A few of my tips for visiting the NICU:
Be on time
This might seem obvious, but babies in the NICU are on a pretty strict schedule.
Respect the rules of the NICU
Many units have their rules posted, usually on the door or when you first enter. Take the time to read the rules and make sure you understand them. Some of the rules from our NICU were:
- All guests must sign in
- All guests must wash their hands and arms up to their elbows
- Do not visit if you are sick
- Scent-free zone (no perfumes, colognes, body sprays, etc.)
- Only two people per bedside (including a parent) – extra visitors could wait outside or in the family room
- Only parents may hold or touch the baby
- No visitors under the age of 12 (except siblings)
- No flowers or latex balloons
Don’t look at the other babies or comment on other babies
One of our nurses referred to this as “window shopping” and it was a big No-No in the NICU. These babies are sick and even though they are adorable, they belong to someone else. Imagine if your baby was in the NICU, would you want strangers looking at them all day?
Be very, very quiet
Many of the babies in the NICU are born premature and noise can be upsetting to them. Our NICU was also an open area so it was important for our visitors to be quiet so they weren’t disruptive to other moms and Dads spending time with their babies.
Do not touch
NICUs have pretty strict rules about who is allowed to hold or touch the babies. In our NICU only the parents were allowed to hold or touch the babies until they were off oxygen and then grandparents were allowed if the parents were present. I know this is difficult, I desperately wanted my sisters to be able to hold the twins, but the rules were put in place to keep the babies healthy and safe, so we respected them.
Don’t stay too long
Usually a 5 minute visit is more than sufficient. Many NICUs have an open concept and visitors can be distracting to other parents who are trying to spend time with their babies.
It’s okay to be nervous, or to not know what to say
When the boys were first born, they were tiny, their skin was translucent, they were covered with tubes and wires, and they looked very sick. And yet, I still wanted people to see them. I was proud of them and I loved them and I wanted to show them off. It’s okay to feel apprehensive about seeing a baby that is small or sick. If you don’t know what to say you can comment on how cute or beautiful the baby is, or how much you appreciate that you were able to come in and see them. Try not to ask too many questions about the tubes or wires or monitors. The parents are just learning about these things too.
Respect the nurses
The nurses in the NICU have a job to do, and this job is to keep these tiny babies healthy and alive. In our NICU, the nurses did scheduled temperature checks, diaper changes and assessments. They also need to make adjustments to keep the baby comfortable and at a proper oxygen level. If a nurse needs to work with the baby while you are there, take a step back and be respectful. These people are truly the heroes of the NICUs and they have the most important job.
Just remember that NICU parents want the same thing that all new parents want, to show off their baby or babies.
I hope this was helpful. If you have any other tips for visiting the NICU, please leave them in the comments below.