If your baby is sick and needs to be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you may be even more worried than usual because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Here are some steps you can take to help keep your baby safe while in the NICU.
The NICU is a unit in a hospital that provides around-the-clock care to sick or preterm babies. At this time, experts don’t know if babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 than other babies. You may feel scared and confused about your baby’s condition. It’s OK to feel like you do. The health care providers working in the NICU have special training and equipment to give your baby the best possible care. They are taking safety measures like wearing masks, gowns, face shields and gloves to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Can you visit your baby in the NICU during the COVID-19 crisis?
Due to increased infection control protocols, many hospitals need to limit the number of visitors and family members allowed in the NICU at this time. Family presence may be limited to parents, guardians or partners. You may only be allowed to have one person be present with your baby at a time, while he is in the NICU. Some hospitals are limiting this to be the same person during the entire NICU stay. Other hospitals allow parents to take turns staying with their baby on a schedule, such as every 12 or 24 hours. Other safety precautions may include:
- Taking the temperature and asking patients and family members questions about their possible exposure to coronavirus before entering the NICU
- Limiting belongings to one small bag
- Not allowing packages, gifts or food on the unit
- Requiring you and other visitors to wear masks or face coverings while in the hospital
Check with your hospital to find out exactly what parent and family presence guidelines are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can you protect your baby from COVID-19 in the NICU?
Washing your hands is the best way to protect your baby from infection. If you spend time with your baby in the NICU, be sure to wash your hands carefully. Many hospitals also recommend that you:
- Consider keeping your nails short and natural while your baby is in the NICU. Fake nails, long nails or nails with chipped polish carry more germs than short, natural nails.
- Take off your jacket or coat and hang it on the coat rack or hooks near the scrub sinks.
- Roll up your sleeves to above your elbows.
- Take off any watches, rings, and jewelry and store them safely.
- Use germ-fighting soap to wash from your fingertips to your elbows, following the NICU specific policies for handwashing. Pay special attention to the area around and under your fingernails.
- Dry your hands well with paper towels after washing.
- Avoid placing anything over your clean arms after washing. If you carry your or your baby’s items to your baby’s space, be sure to wash your hands again before touching your baby. Wash your hands again after touching your face or eyes or after changing your baby’s diaper.
What if you are diagnosed with COVID-19?
Parents with COVID-19 should follow CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19. These guidelines state that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 should not visit babies in the NICU until:
- No fever for at least 3 days (72 hours) without taking fever-reducing medicine like Tylenol
- Cough has improved
- Two COVID-19 tests confirmed negative results at least 24 hours apart
Your hospital may have additional policies and procedures to follow. Check with your hospital to find out exactly what parent presence guidelines are in place for parents who are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Last updated August 25, 2020