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What are visiting policies on a NICU and why are they so important?

Having a baby is a magical time. Everyone you meet when you are pregnant wants to know when baby is due, whether they’re a girl or a boy, and if you have any names. And your nearest and dearest will be itching to meet your new arrival as soon as possible!

However if you baby is premature and sent straight to the NICU it can be a confusing time for everyone. You want all of your closest family and friends to be introduced to your little mouse, but it can feel like there are a hundred rules for you to follow with regards to visiting time on the NICU. 

Rules are there to protect the babies

These visiting restrictions are put in place to protect your baby, and the other babies on the unit. If it is too busy, and there is an emergency, moving people out the way can affect how quickly the doctors and nurses can respond to that baby.

If visitors come on to the unit and forget to wash their hands, or hang their coats up or take their watches off, infection can spread in the blink of an eye. 

If baby is crowded by visitors all day every day, it can be difficult for you to bond with baby. It’s important that mum and dad have some one-on-one time with little mouse to form that attachment - and sometimes its just nice to have a bit of time away from everyone else - like you would if you were at home with baby; you would be able to shut the front door, and lock everyone out. On a NICU, the nurses can do this job for you! If you can keep your visitors to very close family or friends, you are less likely to disrupt baby’s development, and care. 

Its important that the team maintain confidentiality for every baby and family, so just like you wouldn’t want people hearing your private things, we expect the same of others. So restricting visiting times can help us do this. 

Who can visit and who cannot

It can be particularly difficult if your little mouse has siblings - especially over the winter months (normally oct - mar) when all the cold and flu germs are at their highest, some units can restrict the age of younger visitors and stop them coming in all together. If this happens, although it is distressing, you must keep in mind that is done in the very best interest of your baby and the others on the unit. Premature babies are very susceptible to any kind of infection, so what would be a normal cold or cough for your toddler, could be very damaging to your little mouse. 

If any of your visitors have signs of a cold, no matter how desperate they are to meet baby, it is really important that you ask them to keep away - I’m sure they would hate to be the reason your premature baby got poorly. 

Very often NICU will have a set time that visitors can come and meet baby, but this should be at a time that you or your partner are able to be there too. Most units will ask that only parents hold your premature baby, and are very strict on hand hygiene - we would rub everyone down with alcohol gel as soon as they open the front door, if we could!

How's technology helping?

Some units have started to use a system called V-Create, which is an interactive website, where nurses can upload video clips to an encrypted site, that you have password-access to. This has been life-changing for babies, who have to be separated from their families in the early days. It's worth asking your NICU if they have the system in place.

Make sure that you have the ward telephone number so you can call and get updates throughout the time you are away from the NICU. Unfortunately we can’t give information over the phone to anyone but mummy or daddy.

Take lots of pictures, set up a WhatsApp group, or download the Lifecake app to share your little mouse with family and friends. 

Each and every NICU is different, in regards to their visiting policy, and you should always check with the nurses on your unit.

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