Frequently Asked Questions about the NICU
What is a NICU?
NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. Sometimes, newborns require special medical care right after birth. If a baby arrives too early or is born with certain health problems, he or she may need to be admitted to the NICU. Once in the NICU, newborns receive around-the-clock medical attention. Babies are transferred to CHOC from other hospitals so they can receive the care that only a hospital like CHOC can offer.
Which babies need care in the NICU?
Most babies admitted to the NICU are premature (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds) or have a medical condition that requires special care.
What type of care may my baby need?
Babies in the NICU may receive blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds. These tests help doctors monitor the baby’s progress. Babies in the NICU may be monitored by medical equipment and may need special medicine. Specific treatments and procedures will depend on the baby’s condition. Learn more about the state-of-the-art equipment available to CHOC NICU patients.
When can I be with my baby in the NICU?
Parents and legal guardians are welcome in the NICU any time and should wear their yellow wristband throughout your baby’s hospital stay. The information on the wristband authorizes staff to provide medical information about the baby to the parent/guardian. In addition to the armband, parents should stop by the front desk each time they arrive and may need to provide proof of ID. Learn about parking at CHOC Children’s.
Visiting guidelines: Can my other children, friends and other family members visit the baby in the NICU?
Siblings, other family members and friends may visit the NICU until 8 p.m., so that we can ensure baby and parents have a quiet night. We ask that each baby only have up to four people at the bedside at all times, including the parents or legal guardians. A family lounge and waiting areas are available outside the unit.
Siblings who are feeling well and are free of a cold, cough, fever or any communicable disease are welcome in the unit, as well as the Sibling Activity Room when accompanied by an adult. We offer sibling hours, when a parent can check siblings who are potty trained into the Sibling Activity Room and use the time to bond with and care for their baby or meet with the medical team.
Can I stay overnight with my baby in the NICU?
Yes, parents may stay overnight with their babies in our main NICU and at the NICU at St. Joseph Hospital. Although parents and legal guardians are welcome in the Small Baby Unit and the NICU at Mission Hospital around the clock, we do not provide accommodations for parents to sleep by the bedside in these units.
Can I breastfeed if my baby is in the NICU?
Yes. CHOC nutritional recommendations encourage all mothers to breastfeed or pump breast milk for their baby. Although not all babies may be able to consume mother’s milk at birth, our goal is that all babies will eventually get their mother’s breast milk. We encourage mothers to pump and store their milk. Pumping rooms are available in the unit, as are portable pumps so that you may pump at your baby’s bedside. Our Nutrition Lab is equipped to store and track your breast milk for you. We have lactation consultant RNs, along with many of our nurses and dietitians, who are specially trained to work with moms and babies in the NICU. If you have any questions or needs with pumping or breastfeeding, ask your baby’s nurse for assistance. Your nurse will help you or arrange for a lactation consultant to assist you. Learn more about our lactation services.
How can I stay involved in my baby’s care while at the NICU?
Finding out your baby will have to spend time in the NICU is never easy. Many parents worry that their baby will not be able to bond with them. At CHOC, our focus is on patient- and family-centered care, and we believe a baby’s parents or guardians are important partners in the care we provide. Babies, even those being monitored or receiving support by machines, have very positive responses to their parents’ closeness—whether it is a gentle caress with a fingertip, skin-to-skin cuddling or reading a book. As each baby’s plan of care is unique, talk to your medical team about the best ways to bond with your baby during your NICU stay.
Can I use my cellphone or laptop while in the NICU so that I can spend time with my baby and stay connected to my family, friends and work?
Yes. Cell phones must be turned to silent while in the NICU. Cleaning wipes are provided, and we ask that you clean your phone each time you enter the unit. Charging stations are available throughout the hospital.
Where can I eat during our NICU stay?
CHOC offers two full-service cafeterias at our Orange hospital. Our NICUs provide family lounges where you can dine. Vending machines and microwaves are also available. We encourage you to use the cafeteria for meals and snacks because while you help us care for your baby, it is very important that you take care of yourself too. Due to state regulations, we are unable to allow food and drink (except water) at the bedside.
Can my baby wear regular clothes or receive gifts while in the NICU?
Talk to your nurse about when and what type of clothes you can bring for your baby to wear. Much of this depends on your baby’s condition and what medical equipment is supporting your baby. Our staff will be careful with your baby’s personal clothing, but from time to time items can get misplaced. Please use discretion when bringing in items of sentimental value. You are welcome to bring pictures, bright toys and blankets. Flowers and balloons are not permitted in the NICU due to patient safety.