Discharge Instructions: Taking Your Premature Baby Home from the NICU

Most preemies are ready to go home when they are:

  • Able to maintain a stable body temperature in an open crib

  • On complete breast or bottle feeding

  • Taking in enough calories to gain weight

Man securing baby in carseat.

What should I do before I bring my baby home?

  • Make sure you have a car seat appropriate for preemies. This means a rear-facing car seat with a harness that fits snugly. The baby’s head should be supported so that it doesn’t flop forward or sideways. You may be asked to bring your car seat to the hospital a few days before discharge so it can be checked to be sure it’s right for your infant.

  • Schedule a visit with your baby’s doctor.

  • If your baby is using any equipment at home, make sure to discuss it with your home health care specialist before discharge.

  • Take a class to learn infant CPR.

Special safety issues for preemies at home

Once they are ready to go home, preemies are much like other young babies. But you may need to be extra careful about certain things:

  • Protect your baby from infections. You should wash hands often with soap and water. So should anybody else who takes care of your baby. Limit contact with visitors, and avoid crowded public areas. If people in the household are ill, try to limit their contact with the baby.

  • Make your house and car no-smoking zones. Anybody in the household who smokes should quit. Visitors, or household members who can’t or won’t quit, should smoke only outside, away from doors and windows.

  • If your baby has an apnea monitor, make sure you can hear it from every room in the house.

  • Feel free to take your baby outside, but avoid long exposure to drafts or direct sunlight.

When to call the doctor

Call the NICU if you have questions about the instructions you were given at discharge. Call your pediatrician or family doctor if your baby:

  • Has a fever

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F  (38.0ºC) or higher

    • In a child 3-36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0ºC)or higher

    • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 104°F (40.0ºC) or higher

    • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old or for 3 days in a child 2 years older.

    • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Has a temperature below 97.5°F (36.4°C)

  • Is feeding poorly

  • Has fewer than 5 wet diapers per day

  • Is having difficulty breathing

  • Is extremely irritable

  • Is listless and tired