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Adjusting to life after the NICU

How new parents can care for themselves and their baby while adjusting to home life after leaving the NICU

Having a baby can be exciting. It can also be overwhelming, especially if your baby needs extra medical care after birth. Babies who need specialized medical care stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While in the NICU, these babies receive around-the-clock care from specially trained nurses. Life after the NICU, when they go home, they may still need extra care.

We sat down with Stacey Leslie, BSN, RN, CPN, Pediatric Telephonic Case Management at UPMC Health Plan, and Lauren Tomporoski, RN BSN, NICU Clinical Care Manager at UPMC Health Plan, to discuss how to make life easier after taking your baby home from the NICU.

Taking care of your baby

Be patient. Babies who are born prematurely can have colic—periods of intense crying without an apparent reason—or reflux. Because of these conditions, the babies may need extra soothing to keep them comfortable. Sometimes a little motion can help settle a fussy baby. You can try things like rocking or walking around with them to help with fussiness. Infant seats that bounce can also provide motion and give you a bit of a break.

Prioritize follow-up appointments. Babies who received care in a NICU tend to have many follow-up appointments. “Well child visits help prevent illness. At these visits, your baby will receive immunizations, and the physician can track growth; monitor developmental milestones; and discuss nutrition, sleep, and social interactions. Regular visits with a physician will allow your family to create a trusting relationship and address questions and concerns you may have,” Stacey Leslie said.

Lauren Tomporoski added that “it’s important for the pediatrician to get to know your child just like the NICU. You can discuss any concerns you may have about your baby being fussy, not eating, or just not acting like himself or herself. It’s also your chance to ask questions. Remember: No question is a stupid question.”

Taking care of yourself

You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your newborn. That means eating well, getting enough sleep, and going to follow-up health care appointments.

Eat and drink enough. If you are breastfeeding, make sure that you eat and drink enough to stay healthy and hydrated. This will help your body produce milk for your baby. Drinking water and other healthy beverages will also help you avoid becoming dehydrated. Dehydration can cause unclear thinking, mood changes, and other conditions [1].

Even if you feed your baby by bottle, you still need to make sure you are getting the nutrition you need. 

Get enough sleep. You probably want to be by your baby’s side all the time, but it’s important to go home and sleep. Your body needs rest to recover after delivery, whether you had a C-section or vaginal delivery. It’s unlikely that you got a full night’s sleep in an often-busy NICU.

“You need to be well rested and ready when the baby comes home,” Tomporoski said.

Schedule and keep follow-up appointments. Seeing your doctor regularly is vital to your overall health. “If you are feeling down, depressed, disinterested in daily activities, nervous, or anxious, your doctor can connect you with resources to help you overcome these issues,” Leslie said. 

Tips to make life after the NICU easier

Be prepared. When it’s time to take your baby home, make sure you have a rear-facing car seat that’s right for your child’s size. Many fire, EMS, and police stations offer free safety checks to make sure that you installed the seat correctly.

After you get settled, it may be difficult for you to get to a grocery store. Try to make sure you have basics like diapers, wipes, extra pacifiers, and the proper liquid formula (if you are bottle feeding).

Set up a support network. If you have a partner, share diaper changing, feeding, and sleep duties. Ask friends, family, and neighbors for help when you need it. If they are willing to bring food, wash dishes, or give you a break, let them.

Get help if you need it

If you need emotional or physical help for yourself or your baby, it’s OK to ask for it. Never hesitate to reach out to your doctor or your baby’s pediatrician with questions or concerns. Parenting groups and classes can also be a source of support that can help you feel more connected. You can also use these networks to find community resources that help with food, rent, and utilities.

UPMC Health Plan NICU resources

After you take your baby home from the NICU, your life will be full of excitement. But you may also face challenges in caring for your baby. This is normal, and there are resources that can help you get through these challenges.

Never be afraid to reach out when you need help. Raising your hand is a sign of strength and reaching out will help ensure that you and your baby get the care you need.

If you are a UPMC Health Plan member, you have access to helpful resources, including the UPMC Health Plan NICU Program. This program offers free, personalized support for families whose baby is or was in a NICU (up until the child turns 1). You can participate at no cost.

To participate in the program, call the UPMC Health Plan Care Management team at 1-866-778-6073 (TTY: 711) to speak with a NICU care manager. Help is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

UPMC Health Plan members can also use UPMC AnywhereCare* and the UPMC MyHealth 24/7 Nurse Line** to get help from the comfort of home.

If you need help with lifestyle changes, condition management, or behavioral health needs, you can lean on a health coach for support. You can also use the RxWell app to become emotionally and physically healthy. The app is available at no cost to UPMC Health Plan members who are at least 16 years old. Download RxWell from your device’s app store.

UPMC Health Plan also offers other mental and behavioral health supports to help you get the care you need.

*UPMC Health Plan members located in Pennsylvania at the time of a virtual visit may select a UPMC-employed provider or a provider from Online Care Network II PC (OCN), subject to availability and discretion of the provider. UPMC Health Plan members located outside of Pennsylvania will receive service from OCN. OCN is not an affiliate of UPMC. During the COVID-19 emergency, UPMC for Kids, UPMC Community HealthChoices, and UPMC for You members located outside of Pennsylvania will receive service from OCN. After the COVID-19 emergency, UPMC AnywhereCare virtual visits will not be covered services when UPMC for Kids, UPMC Community HealthChoices, and UPMC for You members are traveling outside of Pennsylvania.

** UPMC nurses who answer calls are licensed to assist members in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio. Members must be located in one of those states when calling the UPMC MyHealth 24/7 Nurse Line. The UPMC MyHealth 24/7 Nurse Line is not a substitute for medical care. If an emergency arises, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. Nurses cannot answer plan or benefit questions. Please call the Member Services number on your member ID card for nonclinical inquiries.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the facts: Drinking water and intake. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2020. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.