Skip to Content

What to Know When Your Baby is in the NICU

When you’re a new dad, the last thing you want to consider is the fact that your baby could end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but that is sometimes what happens. A NICU is also called a newborn intensive care nursery or a special care nursery.

Babies might spend time in the NICU for any number of reasons. Some of the more common reasons include:

  • Babies being born prematurely. Babies born at less than 37 weeks is by far the most common reason they’re admitted to the NICU. A premature baby can’t control their body temperature and they may have unstable vital signs, meaning they need to be kept in a controlled environment that keeps them at a constant body temperature.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome is the most common respiratory problem among infants because they have immature lungs. A mild case might require oxygen pushed through a mask, while a more severe case might be treated with a breathing tube or ventilator.
  • Sepsis or infection are among the most common reasons for neonatal death, and life-threatening infections are more common in premature infants.

Sometimes there are issues that may be related to a medical error during delivery, such as a traumatic delivery that leads to decreased oxygen and blood flow to the baby.

Of course, these aren’t the only reasons your new baby could end up in the NICU, but they’re among the most likely reasons.

As a new dad, you want to do your best to take care of your baby, your partner, and your entire family. It can be overwhelming and difficult to do that if your baby does have to stay in the NICU, but being prepared for this situation is important.

The following are some things to know if your baby has a NICU stay.

What Determines If a Baby Goes to the NICU?

Some of the factors that play a role in both whether or not a baby stays in the NICU and also for how long they’re there include vitals like heart rate, temperature, breathing, and color.

If a baby is stable and doesn’t need oxygen and can feed orally for at least 48 hours, they may be discharged, for example.

Who Works in the NICU?

A baby in a NICU will have a dedicated bedside nurse. The nurses who work in the NICU are very qualified and on top of their regular nursing studies, they have typically completed other specialized education as well.

Your baby’s nurse or nurses in the NICU will be able to provide you with most of the information throughout their stay. For example, they’ll know about test results and your baby’s condition, and any changes that might have occurred.

There will be shift changes, and so your baby will likely have a different nurse at night and during the day and depending on the length of their stay in the NICU, maybe the same two nurses for the duration.

A neonatologist will also work in a NICU. These doctors are pediatricians who went on to study newborn care further and specialize in it.

Doctors will typically make their rounds once a day, and that’s true of almost everywhere in the hospital. It’s important to try and time your visits so you can be there during that time. This is when you can ask questions and learn more, although if you miss the doctors, the nurses are also a great source of information.


Under normal circumstances, parents can visit their babies in the NICU. There may also be visiting hours for other family members. Typically, if a child is going to visit the NICU, they can’t be sick and need all of their immunizations. Some units may require wearing gloves and a mask.

With COVID-19 going on, the rules may be different and more stringent than they typically are.

Every time you go into the NICU, you’ll wash your hands to prevent the babies from being exposed to germs.

Depending on your baby’s condition, you may be able to hold them.

For some premature babies, touching can be stressful, so doctors may want you to limit it for a period of time.

As a new dad, you can start bonding with your baby right away, even when they’re in the NICU. If possible, you can ask to be the one to change your baby’s diaper or give them a bath. You can read books and start developing some of the bonding routines you’ll continue when you get home.

Research But Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

If your partner has just given birth, she may be feeling a range of emotions, perhaps even stronger than your own. A good way to provide support and alleviate some of her stress is to do your own research on what’s happening, but not to the extent that you overwhelm yourself.

Go online and find answers to some of the questions you may have, but don’t focus on negative outcomes or what could go wrong.

Instead, think about learning more so that you’ll have the right questions to ask during the times you do speak to doctors.

Personalize the Space

If you can and get the go-ahead from the nurses, you may be able to personalize your baby’s NICU space. This can be good for your partner’s mental health as well as your own.

You may be able to bring in baby blankets, pictures, or stuffed animals, although most of these things can’t actually go into the bed with your baby.

Ask your partner what she’d like to see because she’ll probably be spending a lot of time there.

When it’s a more comfortable environment, it can alleviate some of the anxiety both of you may be feeling during this time.

As a new dad, the idea of your baby being in the NICU can be frightening, but there are ways you can reduce your anxiety and also make it a better experience for your partner.