When I'm admitting a new baby to the NICU, most parents (as soon as they know that their baby is stable) want to know when they can take their preemie home from the NICU.
Unfortunately, there's no rule as when a preemie can go home from the NICU. Babies will usually stay in the NICU until about the time they were originally due to be born. Some babies, though, will have shorter NICU stays, and other babies will need to be in the NICU for much longer.
Before a preemie can go home from the NICU, he or she needs to meet several NICU milestones. In short, a preemie needs to do the following before NICU discharge:
- Stay warm: We can't send a baby home in an incubator, so before your preemie can go home from the NICU, he or she needs to be able to stay warm in an open crib.
- Take all feedings by mouth: Occasionally, babies are sent home from the NICU with an NG tube or a G-tube, but most babies must be able to take all feedings by mouth before NICU discharge.
- Breathe without oxygen: Most babies must be able to breathe well without oxygen before they are sent home from the NICU. The exception is babies who were born very early or who had severe respiratory problems in the NICU. Those babies may go home with a nasal cannula on very low oxygen settings.
- Outgrow As and Bs: Apnea and bradycardia are hallmarks of prematurity, and most babies will outgrow them before they go home from the NICU. If babies have met all other milestones for NICU discharge, though, and are having only mild As and Bs, then they may go home with a portable heart and breathing monitor.