Daily Life in the NICU

Thank you for entrusting CHOC to care for your baby in the NICU. We not only tend to the needs of our patients, but also to the needs of our parents and families. The NICU is different than any other area of the hospital, and there are many new people to meet who all work together with you as a team to care for your baby.

While daily life in the NICU may seem like a roller coaster, you will begin to learn what each person and each machine does to support your baby. In no time you will feel like you are a part of the team yourself, sharing information on your baby and learning the best ways to advocate for his or her future.

Meeting Your Team

You will meet with your baby’s neonatologist, a doctor who is specially trained in the care of newborns, on your first visit to the NICU. They will update you on your baby’s health, and discuss the best medical plan for your baby going forward. You and your family are part of our team from Day One, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.

The neonatologist is the leader of your baby’s a team of specialists. Each one will have a specific role in making sure the medical needs of your baby are met.

What to Expect in the NICU

  • Reduced stimulation – We plan our care times to protect baby’s sleep. It is during deep sleep that babies grow and heal. When awake, handling and movement is minimized to help baby maintain a quiet, organized state and be able to return to sleep as soon as possible.
  • Reduced sound and light – In some cases, we keep lights and sounds low to help promote growth.
  • Parental involvement – As a parent, you have invaluable information that can be shared with your baby’s care team. We suggest keeping a notebook and pen nearby, so you can take notes on things you feel could help your baby’s care team in the treatment plan. With time, you will become aware of your baby’s cues and be able to collaborate on your baby’s care.

Picking Your Surrogates

In an effort to make sure family-centered care at CHOC embraces more than just baby’s parents and siblings, we have developed a surrogate program so that up to four select people can be with baby when their parents are unavailable. Learn more about our NICU surrogate program.

Bedside Reports

The bedside report takes place every shift change, so the day and night nurses can exchange information about your baby. Whenever possible, we suggest you take part, so you can be part of the information exchange, learning the latest information from the care team while also supplying your own. The reports take place around 7 a.m. / p.m., so you should plan to be with your baby by 6:45 a.m. / p.m. if you wish to take part.

Parental Self-Care

Having a baby in the NICU can throw your life out of balance. You want to be there for your new baby as much as possible, but the world outside the hospital – and all of your responsibilities within it – is still continuing on a normal schedule.

Taking care of yourself is just as important as spending time with your baby. If you are not ensuring your health and well-being, it is harder to care for someone else’s needs. Here are some tips:

  • Ask a friend to relay updates about your baby to others. That way you only have to update one person, and they can forward it on to others while you move on to the next item on your to-do list. There are apps and tools to help with this.
  • Ask for help with your other children. Parents will understand and be happy to have a way to provide support. Your family and friends are likely happy to help out in other ways as well. Dog walking, laundry, grocery shopping or meal prep can easily be taken care of by others.
  • Take time for yourself. Go for a walk. Go out to dinner. Take a nap. Do what helps you relax or comfortable. Take proper care of yourself after your baby is born.
  • Ask for help. You are going through a very difficult time, and being emotional is expected. If you are experiencing what you think may be postpartum depression, or just feel drained or wiped out, talk with your social worker. We can connect you with resources to receive additional support. You are not alone. Learn more about the support services we provide to our families.

Your Baby’s Comfort

It can be difficult when your baby is admitted into the NICU, and it is normal to want to reduce or remove any potential pain felt by your baby. Our team’s goals are to provide comfort to your baby throughout his or her entire NICU stay, make sure the treatment provides comfort to your baby and ensure that your care team communicates with you and each other about your baby’s comfort.

Is my baby in pain?

Crying is normal for babies. Crying is the only way babies can tell us they are hungry, tired, wet or want to be held. Sometimes crying can also be a sign of discomfort. Discomfort can be caused by soreness from tubes, blood draws, infections or after surgery while your baby is in the NICU.

What are the signs that my baby is in pain?

Besides crying, a baby will sometimes show certain signs that they may be experiencing discomfort. Your nurse can help you recognize these signs:

  • Facial grimacing
  • Furrowing of the brow
  • Quivering of the lips and chin
  • Thrashing
  • Rigidity
  • Fist clenching
  • Fast breathing

If your baby is showing any of these signs, let your nurse know. We will work to ensure that your baby is more comfortable.

What can be done to help my baby’s pain?

Some comfort measures your nurse may provide your baby include:

  • Swaddle baby
  • Change diaper
  • Offer pacifier for sucking
  • Provide a quiet environment with low lighting
  • Change position of baby (holding, infant swing/chair)
  • Allow rest time by clustering cares
  • Suctioning
  • Bath
  • Medications

Parents are also very important in the care of their baby – especially in comforting their baby. Ways you can help include:

  • Let your nurse know you want to be engaged in providing the comfort measures
  • Be with your baby and hold skin-to-skin as much as possible so long as baby is comfortable
  • Gently rock or pat your baby
  • Read, talk or sing to your baby, your baby knows the sound of your voice and finds it soothing
  • Talk to your baby’s nurse about any concerns


Cellphone Use in the NICU

  • Please be mindful of your phone use while in the NICU.
  • Limit use and speak softly.
  • Please keep cellphones on silent.
  • Be sure that any photos you take are of your baby, family and friends only, with no other patients, visitors or staff (unless given permission) included. No videotaping of nurses, staff or procedures is permitted.
  • Privacy is important, so please respect others in your area.
  • Cellphones tend to carry many germs since we have them with us at all times. In order to reduce the chances of bringing germs into the NICU, we will provide you cleaning wipes to clean your phone. Please clean your phone upon entry to the unit.
  • Maintain hand hygiene after using your phone, especially before touching your baby.

Infection Control and Hand Hygiene

It is important that all family members, including parents and visitors, follow hospital visiting and isolation policies. Anyone with signs of a communicable disease or infection, including colds and flu, should not come to see babies in the NICU. During flu season, we may have additional visitor guidelines for the safety of our patients.

Hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection. Because we are always worried about infection, you are asked to wash your hands and arms each time you enter the NICU, and before touching and handling your baby. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Gel dispensers and hand-washing stations are at the entrance, throughout the unit and in some patient rooms.
  2. Apply soap and water, or one pump of alcohol hand rub/foam.
  3. Spread soap and water or hand rub/foam thoroughly over hands.
  4. Rinse soap and water or rub hands together until dry.
  5. Parents of more than one baby in the NICU must clean their hands before touching each baby.