Having an infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a stressful time for any parent. Here is everything you need to make your time there just a little more comfortable –
The Ultimate NICU survival list!
(Our NICU experience was a little non-traditional, as we had a full-term baby who was critically ill, not a preemie who primarily needed time to eat and grow. You can read more about baby R’s birth story here).
A Really Good Hand Lotion
You wash and sanitize your hands constantly in the NICU and they will dry out quickly. A couple tubes of good quality hand lotion will come in handy. A hand cream would be even better. I have always really liked this one.
Your Own Baby Clothes and Blankets
The NICU did have clothes and blankets available for our use. When your baby is finally able to get dressed, it is so nice to put them in your own clothes! And we were also able to use our own blankets once baby R was switched from his isolette to a crib. We brought a set of our favorite aden + anais swaddle blankets from home and the nurses loved them so much more than the standard issue hospital blankets.
tip: choose baby clothes with snaps, not zippers. Baby will likely be attached to several machines or monitors and it’s easier to manage the wires in between snaps.
A “Yucky” Bag
Having one bag ready to hold the yucky laundry was a huge help during our NICU stay. Our hospital did have laundry facilities available for us to use, but we choose to do laundry at home since we only lived 10 minutes away.
Whichever route you decide to take, there will definitely be dirty laundry. Baby R had to go through withdrawl from the pain meds/sedatives he was given and that meant we went through tons of clothes and blankets. If the yucky bag was full, one of us grabbed it and took it home to wash.
A Bathroom Bag
The nearest bathroom could be a long hallway away from your baby’s room. Stash all of your necessary feminine products, toothbrush, toothpaste and other mini toiletries (like face wash, and deodorant) in a designated bag. Your NICU may also have shower facilities available. Other items you may want to include: hair brush, hair ties, makeup, lip balm, glasses cleaning wipes or contact stuff and any vitamins or medication you might need! I even included a hand towel from home in my bathroom bag, because the hospital only had scratchy paper towels.
tip: having designated tote bags for specific things (dirty laundry, bathroom, food, etc.) really helped my husband and I stay organized during our NICU experience.
A Book to Read to Baby
My very sweet husband researched “ways to bond with your NICU baby” and then brought a copy of Goodnight Moon to the hospital. Here I am reading to our 1 day old baby in the NICU. It was hard to get through without crying, but it was also a very special moment.
A Sign for Baby
You might want to make a cute sign to hang on your baby’s isolette. We were lucky because our NICU had a staff member who enjoyed making baby name signs for everyone. It helps you personalize the space and helps the staff remember baby’s name and gender.
Your Own Pillow and Blanket
My husband and I spent every night in the hospital with baby R. The hospital did provide sheets and pillows for us to use, but having our own from home was a comfort.
Something Warm to Wear At Night
Baby’s temperature will be closely monitored so you don’t have to worry about them. I got a little chilled at night in the NICU, as I was sleeping close to a window during winter. Keep a sweatshirt on hand, and some warm socks.
Have an extra outfit on hand for yourself (and your husband/partner). When you’re at home and the baby spits up on you, you can easily select a new outfit from your closet. That isn’t the case if you get spit up on at the NICU. Depending on when you were next planning to go home, you might be stuck in gross clothes for hours or longer.
A Phone Charger (or 2)
You are going to be doing a lot of texting, emailing, and calling to update friends and family. Make sure you are able to charge your phone. Get an extra long charger, because the available outlet might not be in an ideal place.
tip: if you’re in the NICU long-term, or you are spending nights there, throwing an extension cord/power strip in your bag might be a good idea!
Something To Keep You Busy
Mail to open, bills to pay, a book to read, a knitting project, etc. Something for the quiet moments, or for passing the time when rounds are running late.
A Heating Pad
I used an electric heating pad for engorgement in the early days of pumping and for a sore back.
A Refillable Water Bottle
This is a stressful time in your life and you need to take care of yourself. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and stay hydrated.
Stash some non-perishable, and preferably healthy snacks. We weren’t allowed to eat in the NICU room, but there was a family lounge available where we could go for our snacks and meals. The hospital did have a cafeteria and a Subway, but sometimes you just need to step down the hall for a quick snack.
tip: Another option would be to have some change on hand to use in vending machines.
We carried many dinners back and forth in Tupperware containers. Sometimes we remembered the forks, sometimes we didn’t. Having a few ‘throw away’ utensils on hand was helpful. If you have a food bag, stash some reusable utensils in it, and a few napkins too for good measure!
A Nursing Cover
For nursing or pumping, depending on your situation. There is very little privacy in the NICU, with nurses and other staff coming in and out constantly. I used an actual nursing cover, but a large swaddle blanket like these would also work if you tied a knot in two ends.
An Open Cardigan
When you have the opportunity to do skin-to-skin with your baby, it’s nice to have a big open cardigan to throw on. It will keep your arms warm and you can cover the baby as well. A loose button up shirt could work as well.
A boppy, or similar supportive pillow, comes in handy for breastfeeding and bottle feeding. But it’s also great for skin-to-skin time. The nurses wanted me to hold baby R for as long as possible and having my boppy for extra support was a huge help!
tip: I have only ever used a boppy myself, but the My Brest Friend nursing pillow also comes highly recommended.
A Pen and Small Notebook
There’s a lot to remember during this time, so keep a pen and paper handy in your purse or bag. You might also want to take notes on pumping milk, or write down the name of the hospital’s financial aid person.
A Travel Mug That Will Keep Coffee Hot
Every morning my husband and I woke up (if we slept) early in our baby’s room and one of us got two coffees from the hospital cafeteria. Then one of us went home to be there for our toddler while the other waited to hear from the neonatologist during rounds. Coffee can get cold before I’m finished but I wouldn’t want to risk missing the doctor by walking down the hallway to heat it up. Bringing our Contigo travel mugs from home was a lifesaver. We’d pour the hospital coffee in them and they would stay warm for hours. The autoseal feature of the Contigo comes in handy too; trust me when I say spilling coffee all over the floor in the NICU is embarrassing.
The first time I was able to relax in the NICU was when I put on a pair of headphones and listened to some calming music on Pandora (I think it was Ed Sheeran). There is so much noise in the NICU, from babies crying to the constant whirring and beeping of machines. Don’t feel guilty about tuning the sounds out occasionally.
Thank You Cards
I kept a pack of thank you cards on hand. Writing a handwritten thank you note to a nurse or a friend was a nice distraction and a way to pass time.
tip: write down the names of nurses as you meet them, so you can remember to thank them later. I took cell phone pictures of the whiteboard in our baby’s room, where the nurse wrote their name along with other information at the beginning of each shift.
Something Nice for the Staff/Nurses
Of course this is optional. But I felt very grateful and wanted to show some love to the hard working staff. I took a survey of my own NICU nurses and they all said edible gifts are the most appreciated. They work very long shifts, sometimes without breaks. We gave some granola bars, veggie chips, and mini candy bars (it was the least we could do). One nurse commented that the mini candy bars were her dinner one night. If they hadn’t been in the break room, she wouldn’t have eaten dinner that shift.
For many, the time spent in the NICU is extensive. We were lucky in some ways to have “only” spent 19 days. As we walked up and down the long hallway, we noticed many families had holiday decorations up, teddy bears, and other personal items. Make the space your own. The more it feels like home, the better. We didn’t plan to be in the hospital long, but we did display cards and balloons that people brought us.
(Stay at home yogi is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com)
If you missed the first post in the NICU Moms Series, check it out here: Baby R’s Birth Story
I hope you found this list helpful! I know it seems like A LOT of stuff! But it all does come in handy, and we had a small storage closet to use in the baby’s room. There were also lockers available in the family lounge of our NICU.
Been-there-done-that NICU moms, how did I do? What would you add to this list? If you know a new NICU mom, I hope you’ll share this list with them!
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