Preparing to go home

Take a look at our tips to help you prepare to leave the neonatal unit with your premature or sick baby.

Preparing for your baby to come home from the neonatal unit can feel exciting but may also feel daunting. You may feel worried about looking after your baby at home without the constant support of the unit. These feelings are normal, and lots of parents feel this way.

The staff on the unit will help you to get ready to leave the unit from early on in your stay. This might mean you are involved in changing nappies, giving feeds and having skin-to-skin time with your baby. The staff on the unit will want to help you feel confident in all areas of your baby’s care. Your baby is coming home because they are well enough to leave the unit, and the staff are confident that you are able to look after them. We have more information about when your baby may be able to come home.

Research shows that getting involved in your baby’s care can help you to feel more prepared for the transition to being at home with your baby. We have more information about how you can be involved in your baby’s care on the unit that you may find helpful.

Getting organised to go home

Getting organised early will help you be able to be more prepared to look after your baby when they come home. The staff on the unit will help you to plan, and you can ask them if you have any concerns.

If you will be expressing and/or bottle feeding your baby when you go home, you may want to talk to the unit staff about bringing in the bottles or teats so that your baby can start to get used to them. You can ask the unit staff when the best time to do this might be. We have more information about feeding when you go home that you may find helpful.

If you are planning to express milk at home and are not hand expressing, you will also need your own breast pump. If the pump that you used in hospital is working well for you, you may want to buy or rent the same type of machine. Your local breastfeeding support service or health visitor may also be able to give you details of where to hire a breast pump or get a pump for a shorter term.

Staff on the unit may help you to learn how to express milk by hand. Your local breastfeeding support service or health visitor will be able to help you with this when you get home.

If you plan to breastfeed your baby at home, you may want to research the support that is available in your local area before you go home. This could come from a community breastfeeding support group or a lactation consultant. We have more information about breastfeeding here. You could ask the staff on the unit for more information.

You may also want to bring in a brightly coloured toy for your baby’s cot. Bringing something which smells of home, such as a special blanket may help your baby to be comforted by familiar objects and smells when they arrive home. Check with the staff first if it is appropriate before you bring any objects onto the unit.

Many parents ask about getting special equipment for their baby, such as cots, pushchairs and car seats. The members of staff on the unit who are supporting you with your discharge or your community neonatal nurse will talk to you about any specific equipment that your baby might need, and will answer any questions you might have.

Rooming-in

Before going home, hospitals might offer you the chance to 'room-in'. This means you stay with your baby in a room on or near the unit and care for them overnight for 1 to 2 days. The aim of rooming-in is to give you more confidence in caring for your baby, while having the support of unit staff to help you if you need it.

Rooming-in can be a reassuring experience and can help you to continue to build a close relationship with your baby. It can also help you to look out for cues (your baby’s way of telling you what they need) and changes in behaviour. Talk to the unit staff about whether rooming-in is available at your unit.

Registering your baby's birth

You should register your baby's birth as soon as possible. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a baby must be registered within 42 days of being born. In Scotland, a baby must be registered within 21 days.

You need to register your baby’s birth close to the hospital where your baby was born rather than close to their home address. The hospital will tell you if you can register the birth there. If parents are married, one parent can register the birth, but it is different for parents who are not married. Gov.uk has more information.

Registering your baby with a GP

You will need to register your baby with a general practitioner (GP) as soon as possible. This is important for you to get any medical prescriptions after going home. It is also important so that your baby can get their vaccinations on time.

If your baby is going home on oxygen

If your baby requires oxygen support, they may go home on oxygen. Unit staff will talk to you about this in good time so you can plan your baby’s discharge together, receive training to care for your baby’s oxygen needs and ask any questions. We have more information about what to prepare for when looking after your baby if they are on oxygen.

If your baby is on medication

It is possible that your baby will still need medication when you are told they can go home. Even though some babies may still have ongoing medical issues, these issues will be ones that staff are sure you are able to cope with at home. Unit staff will show you how to give your baby their medication. You should also talk to your local pharmacist to explain what medication your baby needs and to explain that you will be coming in regularly for repeat prescriptions. This will help the pharmacist to have a supply of the medication your baby needs ready for you.

If your baby has a nasogastric (NG) tube

If your baby is going home with a nasogastric tube (also called an NG tube), a member of unit staff might show you how to feed, care for and replace the tube yourself. It may be you, your health visitor or your community neonatal nurse who will replace the tube when you go home. This will depend on your baby’s needs and the support the unit provides.

We have more information about tube feeding that you may find helpful.

Travelling by car

It is important to have an appropriate car seat for your baby, even if the only car journey you are going to make is from the hospital to home. If you do not own a car, you may be able to borrow or hire a baby seat to take your baby home from hospital by car or taxi. You can ask the staff on the unit if there is a local loan scheme.

Some babies may have a test to check if they fit properly in their car seat before leaving the unit. This is sometimes called a ‘car seat challenge’.

We have more information about travelling by car, including information about the use of car seats with premature or sick babies.

If you have twins or multiples

If you have twins or multiples, it is common that one baby may be ready to go home before the other/s. Visiting and caring for two or more babies in different places can be emotionally and practically difficult. Your babies will only be separated if there is likely to be a long period between them being ready to go home. Units will try to ensure that babies come home at the same time if there is only likely to be a few days between them being ready.

You may want to contact Twins Trust, who provide support to parents with twins or multiples.

Preparing for discharge

Some units will have a discharge checklist for you to fill in before you leave the unit. Here are some examples of things that might be on a discharge checklist:

  • Do you know how to reassure your baby and make them comfortable?
  • Do you know how to give your baby a bath?
  • Have you been shown how to give your baby medication?
  • Have you been shown how to use and order any specialist equipment, such as a nasogastric (NG) tube and home oxygen?
  • If you are breastfeeding, do you have enough information and support to breastfeed and know where to go for help?
  • If you are expressing and bottle-feeding, or formula feeding, do you know how to sterilise bottles and make up your baby’s feeds?
  • Have you had resuscitation training?
  • Do you know how to check, monitor and control your baby’s body temperature?
  • Do you know safer sleep guidelines to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
  • Do you know how to recognise if your baby is ill and what to do if they become ill?

Always remember to talk to the staff on the unit, and ask questions if you are unsure about anything. They will be happy to help you.