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Honoring NICU Awareness Month in the Adoption Community

September is National Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month. Understanding why some newborns will spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) (and what to do if your baby does need to enter the NICU) can help new parents appreciate this important month.

Officially becoming an adoptive parent is an exciting time in your life. You’re getting to take the next step into growing the family you always wanted, and love a child who needs you. What you may not be prepared for, however, is whether your newborn baby will need to spend time in the NICU after birth.

While most newborn infants won’t need to go to the NICU after their birth, it’s important to understand that, every year, there are a number of babies who will spend time in the NICU. Below, we’ll talk about why your adopted infant may be spending time in the NICU and what you can do to get through the wait and experience.

Why Infants May Be in the NICU

Something to understand is that the time your infant may need to spend in the NICU can vary depending on the situation. This could also be for any number of reasons, including:

  • The birth mother possibly didn’t realize that she was pregnant.
  • The birth mother may have been experiencing a crisis during her pregnancy and couldn’t prioritize the prenatal care needed for her baby.
  • The baby may have developed special needs or health issues before being born, and the birth mother placed the baby for adoption because she knew she couldn’t afford the expenses needed.
  • The birth mother may have been struggling with substance abuse/addiction issues and decided to place the baby for adoption so she could focus on recovery.
  • And more

No matter what the birth mother’s reason is for placing her baby for adoption, the baby needing to spend time in the NICU after birth is no cause for judgment. The most important thing you can do if this happens to you as the adoptive parents is to show support and love, and do what you can to help your new baby recover and heal.

Some Helpful Tips

The NICU can be an overwhelming experience for adoptive parents and newborn infants. Knowing some important steps you can take as an adoptive parent going through this experience can make that time more endurable.

Below are some helpful tips you can read about and try if you ever adopt a child who requires time in the NICU after birth.

Tip 1: Common NICU Procedures

Learning the medical terminology you hear in the NICU can help you more than you know. While many feel that knowing what medical terms doctors and nurses are saying can be even more stressful for adoptive parents, having an understanding of the language can help you feel more confident in asking questions and getting clarity.

When you better understand what a nurse is talking about in regards to your baby’s health and time in the NICU, it can also help reassure you that you’re going to be a good parent. You may be feeling helpless in not being able to make your baby better quickly, but you’ll have a better idea of their future health and understand future health action plans if your child ever gets sick as they grow up.

Talking with other parents whose babies are in the NICU can also be a great support for everyone. They can relate to you and your situation better than many others, so having others to talk to who understand what you’re going through with your baby and family can be beyond helpful when you just need to talk. Support groups may also be available for parents with children in the NICU. Being able to share your feelings, worries, and triumphs together can make this part of your family’s journey more manageable.

As most hospitals allow visitors in the NICU, talking with your baby’s nurses to better understand your baby’s routine can be one of the best things you do during this time. Knowing what type of interaction your baby likes, how long your baby can respond before getting tired, and even when your baby is stressed can all help you understand different ways you can help your baby while they’re in the NICU. If you can, skin-to-skin contact, also known as “kangaroo care” is a great way for both you and your baby to bond. Being able to spend time with your baby however you are able will go a long way for both of you.

Tip 2: Creating a Plan

Spending time in the NICU is usually not an expectation of any parent, but it happens. If your new baby is required to stay in the NICU for any amount of time, it’s important that you work with your employer to take that additional time off so you can be with your baby.

If you’re married or have a partner, work with them to coordinate time off, both together and separately so someone can be at the hospital. Having that time off allows you to focus solely on your baby and your family in a difficult time and not worry about any stresses at work. If your employer wants regular updates, work with them to figure out contact via email and phone calls.

Despite the fact that your baby’s time in the NICU can be stressful, it’s important to remember to include your other children in this matter. They may be at an age of being able to process things a little more, but it can still be a confusing time for them. Make time each day to spend with them so they don’t feel lost or neglected while their new sibling is in the hospital.

Finding support resources for your other children can also give them the time and other people to talk to while you’re with your baby in the NICU.

As long as it’s not against hospital policy, you can also work to create a home away from home. Especially if you have an extended stay with your baby in the NICU, bringing mementos like blankets, some family photos, and something comfortable to dress your baby in can make the time there a little more comfortable. Even though it’s not the nursery you have planned back home, you can still create the space your baby is in to feel a bit like home.

Tip 3: Build a Financial Plan

When your baby is going through an extended stay in the NICU, one of the best things you can do early on is take care of your insurance coverage. At placement, you can add your baby to your insurance. Once placement papers have been signed in a private adoption, you are officially responsible for your child’s medical needs. You can check with your adoption professionals to see if your baby may be eligible for Medicaid coverage to help with deductibles, copayments, and even coinsurance.

During your baby’s stay in the NICU as you’re there at the hospital, you can also look into getting nearby housing for little to no cost. Ronald McDonald House is a great example and opportunity for families needing financial assistance during this time in their lives.

Of course, one of the most important financial steps you can take is relying on others who offer to help. Whether that be extended family, friends, or even one of the nurses, they know you’re tired and dealing with a lot at that time. They want to help, and it can be beneficial to let them help.

That help could range from them hosting a small pizza party, bringing you a change of clothes so you don’t have to leave and drive anywhere, or picking up any necessities from the store. Not everyone may think of this kind of support as financial help, but having a strong support system with you throughout this time can make more of an impact than you realize, short-term and long-term.

Tip 4: Foster Care Adoptions, International Adoptions, and the NICU

If you adopted your child through foster care or through international adoption, there is a chance they may need a stay in the NICU. Especially for international children, the environment in their country may be different from that of the United States. If they picked up any illness while there, staying in the NICU allows medical officials time to make sure the baby is healthy. The birth mother of the child may also have had health concerns, herself, that could have affected the baby during pregnancy.

No matter why your adopted baby needs to spend time in the NICU before you can take them home, there is no need for any kind of judgment towards the birth mother or birth family. You need to spend that energy focusing on your new baby and your family so you can, hopefully, bring them home soon to start their new life.

Organizations You Can Donate To

If you have family members and friends who ask you how they can help while your baby spends time in the NICU, help can always be provided through donations to organizations that assist NICU hospitals and families. Before making a donation, you can research organizations and non-profit companies that take donations for NICU assistance.

Here are some websites of non-profit organizations you can research and contact for any questions or help with donating:


Despite how scary and overwhelming spending time in the NICU with your baby can be, taking the right steps and getting the best care can make that time a little more endurable. Having a strong support system, taking care of yourself and your family, and taking the time to learn more about the NICU and your baby’s health can have immediate and long-lasting effects.

The most important thing you can do during this time is to have patience and respect with the hospital staff attending to your baby. The nurses and doctors in the NICU can help you understand the procedures and your baby’s routines, which can help you feel more comfortable letting them do their jobs to get your baby healthy and ready to go home.

It’s understandable that you may feel highly stressed, but just remember that this time is only temporary. When you finally get to take your baby home for the first time after staying in the NICU, that time in your life will feel even more special.