Bringing home your preemie is exciting but nerve-wracking. After spending all that time watching the NICU monitors alerting every episode of bradycardia and apnea, you feel a bit anxious about “unhooking” your baby. The important thing I kept reminding myself was that they would not be sending my baby home if she wasn’t fully capable of breathing by herself and regulating her own heartbeat. Here are some of the things we found most helpful in the first weeks at home with Harper.
1. I mentioned Dr. Brown’s bottles in my NICU essentials post. It was what our nurses recommended for reducing reflux, and Harper never did have an issue with reflux or spitting up. 4oz bottles will be plenty big in the beginning. Harper started on a preemie nipple when she was first learning to take a bottle, but by the time she was discharged she had graduated to a level 1 nipple..
2. You will likely need to fortify bottles if you had a preemie, even if you are breastfeeding. We used Similac Neosure (there is also Enfamil or whatever your doctor recommends).
3. A multivitamin with iron was recommended to us by our NICU docs and pediatrician. Preemies don’t have enough stores of certain vitamins and minerals like a full term infant, and therefore need a daily multivitamin.
4. Dr. Brown bottle warmer. This is my absolute favorite bottle warmer. It’s digital, which makes it super easy to set an accurate time to warm different volumes of milk. We’ve tried the Munchkin brand as well, but it doesn’t compare to this one.
5. Microwave sterilizer – so awesome and easy to use. We use it to sterilize bottles, pump parts, pacifiers, teething toys, etc. Keeping germs at bay is essential with a preemie, especially in those early weeks at home.
6. Angelcare monitor. Honestly any baby monitor will do, but due to the aforementioned apprehension we wanted this one to alert us if she were to stop breathing.
7. Breastmilk storage bags. If you are breastfeeding, it may take quite some time for your preemie to catch up to your supply. This means you will need to freeze and store a lot of milk. My favorite are the Lansinoh because they freeze relatively flat. (I found the Medela bags to be bulky, even after removing all the air.) The thinner, flatter Lansinoh bags stacked well in a drawer (a shoe box also works well) in the freezer. I put my newest milk in the back which makes it easy to take the older milk from the front.
8. Hand sanitizer. Baby is leaving the safety bubble of the NICU, and entering the real world. It’s ok to ask well meaning friends and family to sanitize their hands before touching or holding your babe. They know what you’ve been through and they won’t be offended.
9. Preemie sized diapers. Our developmental therapists said it was important to have the appropriate size diaper so you don’t spread their hip bones. For many preemies being discharged, even newborn diapers may be too big.
10. Swaddleme infant wrap. Preemies get used to being swaddled in the NICU to give them that snug feeling of being in the womb. A SwaddleMe or Halo sleep sack works well. We preferred the SwaddleMe in the warmer summer months because it was thinner cotton and didn’t seem quite as warm. They also run a little small, so Harper fit well in the small/medium size even though she was only 6.5lbs when we brought her home.
There were a lot of doctor’s appointments in the early weeks at home. Because Harper came home on oxygen, it was a bit bulky lugging around her oxygen tank, a diaper bag, and car seat. Having a stroller that the car seat snaps into made it easier to get from the car to the doctor’s office (especially with a toddler also in tow). Also, people love babies. Rightly so – they are precious! I never thought I’d be that mom that didn’t want people touching her baby, but with a preemie susceptible to germs, you just can’t be too careful. I found a car seat canopy to be helpful in discouraging any unwanted contact, and as an added bonus, shielding Harper from unexpected coughs and sneezes. Before bringing Harper home I also stocked up on saline spray, mylecon, and baby Tylenol in addition to the other baby hygiene essentials.
I felt anything but prepared to care for my sweet baby girl without the aid of our wonderful nurses and doctors. However, we made it through the transition (by the grace of God!), and each week got a little easier. My goal is not to give advice, but to share our experience in hopes that it may be helpful. I was certainly grateful to everyone who shared their NICU story with us during this time!
* You can find my NICU essentials post here.