In general, your premature baby will be ready to go home around her due date. But your baby will have to reach certain milestones first. Her vital signs–temperature, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure–must be consistently normal. This means that your baby:
- Keeps herself warm
- Sleeps in a crib, not an incubator
- Weighs about 4 pounds or more
- Has learned to breast- or bottle-feed
- Breathes on her own
What can you do to get ready?
Make sure you talk to your baby’s health care provider and the NICU staff about caring for your baby at home. Here are some things to think about:
- Do you have everything you need at home to take care of your baby? Do you have medicine and equipment your baby needs? Do you know how to give your baby medicine and use the equipment?
- Are there any videos, classes, booklets or apps that may help you learn how to take care of your baby at home? Ask about taking a CPR class prior to bringing your baby home—knowing what to do in an emergency may make you feel more comfortable.
- What do you want discharge day to be like? Do you want family or friends to be there when you and your baby get home? Or do you want it to be just you and your partner with your baby?
Many hospitals let parents “room in” with their baby for a night or two before going home. This can be a good way to practice taking care of your baby on your own while the NICU staff is still right there to help.
You will be required to have a car seat before you leave the hospital. Preterm and low-birthweight infants have a higher chance of slowed breathing or heart rate while in a car seat. So your baby may need a “car seat test” before being discharged. The NICU staff will monitor your baby’s heart rate and breathing while she is in her car seat for 90 to 120 minutes. They may watch your baby even longer if your travel home is more than 2 hours.
Make sure you have chosen a health care provider for your baby. You can choose a:
- Pediatrician. This is a doctor who has special training to take care of babies and children.
- Family practice doctor. This is a doctor who provides care for every member of a family.
- Nurse practitioner. This is a registered nurse with advanced medical education and training.
If your baby has special medical needs, you may also need a provider who specializes in that condition. The NICU staff, hospital social worker or your baby’s general care provider can help you find someone.