The NICU is full of a lot of amazing things, but it’s not exactly “homey”.
From the medical equipment, hard chairs, doctors, beeps and alarms…it can actually be a pretty stress place to spend your day. The power of space, and the emotions it evokes can help us cope with difficult situations and circumstances.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, chances are…you want to be in the comfort of your own home. If you’ve ever had to heal from surgery, you probably wanted to be in the coziness of your own bed instead of the hospital.
Yes, the NICU space can be a tough place to enter, but it’s important for us to remember that even though it’s a medical environment, it’s also that baby’s temporary home…their healing space.
Plus, if you’re sitting at your baby’s bedside all day, or staying their overnight, it’s your temporary home and space as well. NICU parents have talked about the power of making their baby’s bedside feel personal and individualized to them.
It’s one way you can create a more comfortable, healing space as you navigate the NICU journey.
In this blog post, we are going to share 4 ways you can make the NICU space feel more “homey” for both you and your baby.
1. make and hang up some decorations. we’ve got some ideas for you.
In my experience, the nightshift nurses are pretty amazing at whipping up some ADORABLE crafts for their babies.
You can jump in on the fun and help do footprint or holiday art.
Need some other ideas?
Hang up some inspirational quotes or bible verses that keep you centered.
Have your baby’s siblings color pictures for their new brother or sister and hang those up around the bedspace, behind the crib, or on the windows as well.
You could also cut out the letters in your baby’s name to put on the door or over their incubator or crib! This is one way for you to show off your baby’s sweet name and also help support a stronger bond between your baby and their caregivers. When your baby’s name is outside their door or near their bed, they are more likely to call your baby by their first name, creating a more personal relationship with your providers.
Is there a holiday coming up? If you’re in the NICU around the holidays, it can bring a lot of emotions. It can be healing to decorate your baby’s space with holiday decor (as permitted by your unit–NICUs can have a lot of rules about decorations). Enjoy decorating your baby’s space for the holiday, and make sure to take pictures to show any siblings and family at home. Hopefully, you’re celebrating that next holiday at home!
Another thing that should be celebrated is milestones! If your baby reaches a milestone, make a decoration to let everyone know! There are signs that you can purchase (like these or these!), or you can make celebration signs yourself!
“I got my first bath!”
“I took my first bottle.”
“My first outfit.”
Decorating can be a light-hearted and fun thing to do to not only allow yourself to feel some joy but also bring some joy to your baby. Creating a space that feels specific to you can help you feel more supported and at home on your journey.
NICU Crib Art by Every Tiny Thing
2. Bring in photos of close friends and family!
Did you know your baby’s favorite thing to look at is your face?
Feel free to bring in some of your favorite family pictures to hang up around your baby’s bed space. Take the chance to tell your new baby about their family. You can introduce your baby to each family member and tell a story about each!
Your baby LOVES the sound of your voice. This is a great thing to do when you aren’t allowed to hold your baby.
Pictures of your family can also be a really good reminder to both you and your baby that you are not alone and you have people that love and support you. Something we really need on the NICU journey.
Also, as a NICU occupational therapist, I LOVE seeing pictures of your family in the room. It helps me take your baby out of the context of the NICU environment and really imagine and advocate for their life after the NICU.
It also gives me something pretty special to talk about with you when I meet with you at the bedside for a developmental session.
3. Bring in personal items for you and your baby!
In most NICUs, you’re welcome to bring in items that belong to you. Maybe you received a cute swaddle you’ve been wanting to see your baby in. Maybe you have specific outfits, hats, bows, or socks you want your little to wear. You can bring them in and keep them in a bin under your baby’s bed, or in a closet if your room has extra storage.
Be aware, anything you bring from home has the potential to get lost in the NICU laundry. NICU providers do their best to keep linens and clothing that is personal and from the hospital separate, but it can be difficult with all the hustle and bustle.
A couple tips when bringing items from home
– Write your baby’s name on anything that’s yours using a Sharpie marker
– Keep a little sign up that says something like “I have my own clothes, please put them in the hamper if they get soiled so mom can take them home to wash.”
– Don’t bring anything in that has special meaning (just in case it got lost!)
A NICU mom of 23 week preemie twins once told me how much it helped her feel like “mom” to wash her baby’s clothes and isolette covers (she brought cute blankets from home!) every week. The act of doing laundry was something she could DO during a time when so many things were out of her control.
There are outfits that work better for babies in the NICU than others.
For example, because of some medical lines and tubes, it can be more difficult for NICU babies to wear pants, or one direction zippers (onesies with zippers that start at the bottom and go up!).
Instead, bring in outfits that have an “inverted”/reverse zipper (like these!) so it can be opened at the top or bottom to allow for lines and tubes to come out. Gowns are also another easy option.
And guess what?
There are even skin-to-skin babywear products that make it REALLY easy to get your baby skin-to-skin on you once they’re wearing clothes. The Bonsie rompers and sleepers are also amazing for babies with ostomies or abdominal incisions/surgical sites that need constant monitoring or ease of access.
Picking out your baby’s clothing can help you transition into that parenting role and gives you back some power during the NICU journey.
I actually include inverted onesies in my list of favorite things for a NICU baby and mama!
6-pack Inverted footie onesies by Target
Bonsie Midnight Footie by Bonsie
4. Make sure that you allow yourself to get comfortable!
As a parent or caregiver, you are likely spending a great amount of time in the NICU. And some units do a better job of prioritizing the comfort of the family than others.
Thankfully, many units are being renovated with a priority placed on the entire family’s stay!
The NICU isn’t comfortable. I remember visiting my son while I was still on the postpartum unit. I hadn’t planned on a NICU stay, so I didn’t really pack things that I was expecting to walk around the halls in. I made sure to grab some comfy sweats that made postpartum care easy, plus a cozy blanket I loved that felt like home.
Having a blanket that gave me cozy memories of home was enough for me to snuggle up in the uncomfortable recliner for hours while I waited to hold him.
If there’s something you know brings you peace or helps soothe your soul, bring that to the NICU too. Maybe it’s your favorite tea, coffee, book, or music.
It’s important to do what you can to support your own physical and emotional needs on the NICU journey as well. Having items to pass the time or that remind you of the comfort of your home can help you when the days feel long. Whatever you need to do for yourself, do it!
The NICU can be a foreign and uncomfortable place for many, but it’s also a place where miracles happen and relationships flourish. Try using one of these tips to create a healing, personalized space for your baby (and you!).
And don’t forget…if you need to get home to your own bed, do it! You’re not expected to stay in the NICU all day, every day. The NICU is not a normal postpartum space, and for some, the setting alone can exacerbate your anxieties.
For others, it is a relief and brings a sense of peace to spend all day in the NICU, to know what’s going on and be by your baby’s side 24/7. Recognize that both responses are okay. Recognize what your body needs and listen. You’ve just been through a lot.
You’re amazing, you are brave, you are enough.
Tell me, what special items do you have in your baby’s space that make it feel “homey”? What helped it feel more comfortable?
Disclaimer: It’s important to always consult with your baby’s medical team before implementing any of these ideas. If there are restrictions on decorations, it’s usually because it poses an infection risk. NICU teams want you and your baby to feel comfortable just as much as you do, but they always have your baby’s health and best interest in mind and will give you the best advice for your baby!