What to Bring to the NICU

a list of items to pack when your baby is in the NICU for an extended stay

Being a Type A personality, I thrive on planning and list-making.  Long before the babies were born, I had lists of items for our baby registry and what to pack for my hospital stay.  Even though I escaped long-term hospitalization, I had a “go bag” prepared, and George had one too.  What I never considered was what to bring to the NICU.  Sure, I had a bag full of preemie clothes neatly packed in a Thirty One bag given as a gift, but I didn’t think about anything else we’d need during our NICU stay.

Over the course of our seven week NICU stint, I began realizing that we needed certain things available.  Several items on my list were at the recommendation of nurses, but I didn’t know to bring them until after we spent weeks in the NICU.  Within the babies’ room, we had a closet to keep these items, which was handy.  If we didn’t have in room storage, I suppose I would have packed a bag with some of these items and left the remaining ones in the babies’ crib storage areas.

Notepad and pen- Since I was often solo in the NICU, I jotted notes about what the doctors and nurses told me during the day so I could relay the information to George.

Pillow and blanket- In the days shortly after delivery, I was recovering from a difficult pregnancy and c-section.  I made good use of the sofa in the babies’ room for naps between feeds and pumping.

Insulated cup with lid and straw– I spent exactly two weeks with the babies in the NICU before someone finally told me that lidded drinks were permitted in their room.  As a pumping mom, I was struggling to spend time with four babies and keep myself hydrated and fed.  Having a lidded drink available at all times was a tremendous help.  I usually kept water, but sometimes filled my cup with protein shakes to help provide nourishing calories.

Boppy pillows/ spare cover– The NICU had Boppy Pillows available for use, but there were only a few per floor so there was no guarantee there would be one when we needed it and that it would be clean. We used Boppy pillows to help us hold our fragile babies, prop them side lying for feeds, and when I attempted to tandem feed two of them.

Robe- One of the nurses suggested bringing a soft, fluffy robe for Kangaroo care (skin to skin contact). Best idea ever. When I wanted to hold a baby in Kangaroo Care, I slipped off my top and put on my robe instead, the baby could then snuggle on my chest while I was covered. The robe kept the baby warm and snuggly as well. Others suggested wearing a button up shirt, but I found them to be scratchy for the babies, tight, and difficult for me to maintain modesty.

Nursing cover– My lactation consultant told me being near the babies during pumping sessions would help with milk production, and she was right.  I pumped right in the babies room so I could see them.  My nursing cover provided modesty for me while hospital staff circulated the room.

Lanolin- Before pumping, I slathered lanolin in the pump flanges, which made it much more comfortable for me.

Change of clothes– After a few messes, I learned to leave a change of clothes for myself. Babies are full of yucky discharges and sometimes they splatter you beyond repair.

Stain remover– Even though I had spare clothes,  I found Dreft stain remover handy for small spits or yuckies when I didn’t need a wardrobe change. Dreft has an impeccable way of getting rid of spit up stench. Our visitors also appreciated said stain remover because babies don’t discriminate who they spit upon.

Toiletries– I kept a tiny bag of overnight toiletries (e.g. toothbrush, face soap, hair brush) just in case one of the babies had a rough night and we needed to stay overnight. Thankfully, I did not need this bag until we roomed in on Harper’s final night at the NICU, but I was always glad it was there if needed.

Breast pads/ panty liners – New moms, even those who can’t pump or nurse, leak a lot and having spares of these are handy.

Baby lotion– Although the NICU provided baby wash, they did not have lotion. Between baths, I liked to massage the babies’ skin with lavender baby lotion. Whenever the babies had a massage, nurses would spill into our room following the nice aroma.

Nail clippers/ nail file– Apparently clipping nails is considered cosmetic and nurses are not allowed to tend to them. Our babies’ nails grew fast and were sharp. Every few days, George and I would give them baby manicures.

Books/ high contrast pictures– When the babies regulated temperature, the NICU provided them with mobiles, swings, and bouncy seats to help simulate cognitive development. Prior to that, a nurse suggested bringing high contrast board books and pictures for their isolettes. The babies spent hours looking at their décor and it made it seem cheery. Another quad mom said her NICU did not have mobiles or seats so she brought her own. I thought that was a great idea.

Camera– I found an inexpensive digital camera ($20) at Target, which I left at the NICU. When we were not with the babies, our nurses snapped lots of pictures. It was always fun to see what was on the memory card the next day.

Baby clothes– Our NICU provided preemie clothes once the babies regulated temperature and no longer needed isolettes. However, we received many preemie sized outfits as gifts and had fun buying some ourselves. We made sure to bring all of it to the NICU so the babies could make use of these clothes. After all, they would outgrow them before coming home. I always liked seeing them in outfits we provided rather than tatty ones with NICU written in Sharpie on the side. Besides, preemie clothes are cheap (sometimes as little as $1-$2). Walmart and Babies R Us have good selection.

Laundry bag- Once the babies started wearing clothes, that meant I had baby laundry to handle.  I used a drawstring laundry bag to transport clothes back and forth.  On days I didn’t feel like bringing clothes home, I used the laundry room at the NICU.

Bottles– When the babies began taking bottles relatively well and had promises of coming home soon, I brought the Avent bottles we intended to use at home to try. It was good thing I brought them too.  Harper and Rylin were okay with them while the other babies were not. Mason and Sydney ended up needing Dr. Brown’s bottles with a preemie flow nipple. Coincidentally, I believe bringing the preemie bottles helped them master bottle feeds and come home.

Bottle Brush- Having bottles at the NICU also meant I needed a bottle brush to clean them. The NICU provided dish soap and a wash tub, however.

If your baby spent time in the NICU, what creature comforts helped you during that time?

25 thoughts on “What to Bring to the NICU

  1. Music!!! The nurses and doctors told me to bring our daughter music as it was beneficial to her. I was skeptical until the day they brought in a harp player. I watched as my daughter’s heart rate dropped, O2 sats rose and her breathing became more regular. After that I brought her music every day.

    I also brought her pictures my older children had drawn for her. I hung them on the isollet and took pictuers of them there to show my older kids (our NICU didn’t allow siblings) . It really helped them to bond with the new baby during her 4 month stay.


  2. No negativity,it rubs off on your baby makes them irritable,just got to keep smiling,being positive&showing your baby that you care 🙂


  3. Thank you for this! We are starting our path, I’m pregnant with triplets. So a NICU stay is likely, and I’d rather have something ready.


  4. Thank you for this. I am currently 31 weeks with a little girl. We were told last week that IUGR is likely, and the fact that I have already started dilating makes the doctor think she is coming within the next 3 or 4 weeks. With her size (measuring 3 weeks behind), a NICU stay is very likely, they say. So this is very helpful. Thank you!


    • You’re welcome! Congratulations on the upcoming arrival of your little girl, and prayers for a smooth, safe delivery. My tiniest girl was IUGR, and was 3-4 weeks behind. She was tiny at birth, and still is but has spunk!


      • Thank you for posting this I’m also currently on home rest at 30 weeks pregnant with an IUGR baby. And we are pretty close to the cut off for immediate delivery. So a nicu stay will happen. It’s nice to know others have been through this.


    • Great idea! I took similar notes, but in a notebook instead of a calendar. You could use the notes or calendar function on a smartphone too.


  5. Thank you so much for this!! I am 22 weeks and on bed rest going forward with a pretty definate NICU stay in our future!! This helps me with ideas of ways to prepare ahead of time!


    • I’m so glad this helped you prepare. The NICU can be hard, but I felt that knowing it was coming was really good for us. We knew a lot of what to expect. Bed rest is also challenging but worthwhile and short in the scheme of things. Hang in there.


  6. Thank you!! My daughter has currently been in the NICU for 2.5 weeks, and this list has items on it that I didn’t even think of. I want to make her room feel more like home.


  7. If you have your baby book bring it in so you can fill out the pages you can. I know once I get home I won’t have time. Also steal momento item…One of my primary nurses has been really good about keeping certain things for us..stickers, eye patches from the bilirubin light, name tags etc. but some nurses may throw out things that you may want to keep, so if they are about to throw something out make sure to ask if you can keep certain items so you can bring them home as a momentos.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this. I was discharged yesterday after a vaginal birth, a placenta tear resulting in a failed d&c and a hysterectomy. My babe is 35 weeks now, born at 34. I’ve been a wreck since I left her. I will have to commute for between a week to a month and a half, depending on how she’s doing. I will have a small basin at the nicu I can place things in, but otherwise I will be using a bag. Nothing went According to plan (as most preemie births go) and I’m having a hard time getting my feet under me. This article is a lifesaver. Every step, every item is detailed and it makes sense. Thank you so much! And congrats on your quad birth, super mama!! You are incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congratulations on the arrival of your little one. I know it can feel so scary and disorienting. I’m so happy the article is helpful to you. You will get into a groove and before you know it. hugs!


  9. This list is a lifesaver! We’re adopting a little guy from NICU born at 32 weeks with IUGR. I have been able to be with him every day since he was born (2 weeks so far) and almost none of these things crossed my mind to bring lol. I’ve been on autopilot and some days I even forget to eat! With this pandemic, I’m the only one allowed to visit so this list will make things so much easier.


    • I’m so happy this helped you!! I hope you’ll be more comfortable when you visit now. Congratulations on your little guy’s adoption- how exciting!


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