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When will my baby be discharged from the NICU?

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Your baby will be discharged from the NICU when he meets discharge criteria based on his age, size, and condition. In addition, you must be prepared and comfortable to assume care of your baby at home. You and your baby’s medical team together will determine when the time is right for your baby to leave the hospital and if you need the help of a home health services provider.

Before your baby is ready to go home from the NICU, these milestones must be reached:

  • Graduation to a crib: Your baby must be able to maintain his body temperature in a regular crib.
  • Consistent breathing and heart rate: Your baby must be able to breathe on his own and can’t have periods of apnea (not breathing) or too slow a heart rate (bradycardia). When your baby has 5 to 7 straight days of consistent, steady breathing with or without oxygen, it’s a sign that he may be ready to go home.
  • Feeding and gaining weight: Your baby must be able to take in enough calories to be gaining weight. This is usually from breastfeeding or a bottle.
  • Parent skills: Before you go home with your baby, NICU staff will help you learn these skills: Well-baby care; Using home equipment; Feeding; Performing CPR; Giving medication; Fitting your baby in your car seat

Babies are discharged from the NICU when they are able to eat, breathe and keep their body temperature up on their own.

If your baby is premature, he may be healthy enough to go home soon after birth, or he may need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (also called NICU) for special care.

Your baby can probably go home from the hospital when he:

  • Weighs at least 4 pounds
  • Can keep warm on his own, without the help of an incubator. An incubator is an enclosed unit that helps premature babies stay warm.
  • Can breastfeed or bottle-feed
  • Gains weight steadily (1/2 to 1 ounce each day)
  • Can breathe on his own 

Learn more at: marchofdimes.org

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.