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Home after the NICU

  • Learn about your baby's condition, treatment and care.
  • It's OK to feel worried about bringing your baby home.
  • Find a provider to care for your baby outside the NICU.
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Crying and fussiness

All babies cry, but some cry more than others. They cry when they're hungry, bored, uncomfortable, frightened. They also cry when they need a diaper changed, hear a loud noise, meet a new person—or for no apparent reason. Crying is one of the few ways your baby can communicate with you.

His crying is no reflection on your parenting. But it can be very frustrating when you baby cries and, despite your best efforts, doesn't stop. You can try to soothe a crying baby by feeding him, changing his diaper, swaddling, dimming the lights, rocking, singing and walking.

Some studies show that premature babies are more likely than term babies to be fussy. They may be harder to soothe, cry often, and have irregular eating and sleeping patterns. But each child is different, so this may or may not apply to your baby.

If your baby is fussy, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone. Your baby will soon outgrow this difficult phase.

Some babies who have been in the NICU have trouble adjusting to the quiet of home. Your baby may sleep better with some background music or a low level of noise.

As you get to know your baby, you'll learn how much crying is normal for him and what you can do to soothe him. If your baby cries longer than usual, and nothing you do soothes him, call your baby's health care provider to see if there is a medical reason.

If your baby won't stop crying

If your baby won't stop crying, try the following:

  • Check to make sure he isn't hungry.
  • Check to make sure he has a clean diaper. If not, change it.
  • Look for signs of illness or pain. Examples: Fever over 100.4 degrees, swollen gums or an ear infection.
  • Rock the baby, or walk with him. But if you begin to feel stressed, put him down right away.
  • Sing or talk to the baby.
  • Offer him a pacifier or a toy.
  • Take him for a ride in a stroller.
  • Swaddle the baby snuggly in a blanket.
  • Turn on the stereo or TV. Be sure the sound is low and soothing.
  • Run the vacuum cleaner, put on the clothes dryer, or run water in the bathtub or sink. Some babies like these rhythmic noises.
  • Hold the baby close to your body. Breathe calmly and slowly.
  • Call a friend or relative. Ask them to care for your baby while you take a break.
  • If nothing else works, put the baby in his crib on his back, close the door and check on him in 10 minutes.

Choosing a baby-sitter

If you have a fussy baby or a baby who cries a lot, choose your baby-sitters carefully. Find people:

  • Who have lots of experience with small babies
  • Who have spent time with crying or fussy children
  • If you are not sure that the person has the patience and maturity to care for a crying baby, do not leave your child alone with her.

Tell anyone who cares for your baby to never, ever shake a baby.

See also: Share your story

August 2009

Call your doctor now if your baby...

  • Has a temperature above 100.4 F
  • Has trouble breathing or is hard to waken
  • Has blood in her vomit or stool
  • Has yellowish skin or eyes
  • Is having a seizure

Most common questions

How do I calculate adjusted age for preemies?

Chronological age is the age of a baby from the day of birth. Adjusted age is the age of the baby based on his due date. To calculate adjusted age, take your baby's chronological age (for example, 20 weeks) and subtract the number of weeks premature the baby was (6 weeks). This baby's adjusted age (20 - 6) is 14 weeks. Health care providers may use this age when they evaluate the baby's growth and development. Most premature babies catch up to their peers developmentally in 2 to 3 years. After that, differences in size or development are most likely due to individual differences, rather than to premature birth. Some very small babies take longer to catch up.

Is it OK to invite people over after leaving the NICU?

Babies who've been in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) are often at higher risk of getting an infection than other babies. Be careful where you take the baby and who comes to visit her. But you don't need to stay in your house alone for the first months after your baby comes home.

If you do have visitors, make sure they wash their hands before touching the baby. Also, don't let adults or children who are sick, have a fever or have been exposed to an illness near her. Lastly, ask visitors not to smoke in your house.

My baby has developmental delays. Where can I find help?

Some babies leave the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) just fine while others may have developmental delays. The earlier these delays are identified and treated, the more likely your baby will be able to reach his potential later in life. Most NICU babies will be evaluated before leaving the NICU to see their strengths and any areas that can be improved. If you think your baby has developmental delays, talk to his health care provider about where to find early intervention services. Contact state and local programs for help.

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