How to Decorate Your Preemie's NICU Bed With Style
When I think back to those happy times when I was daydreaming about having my first baby, I can remember - I can feel it in my bones - that blissful feeling of possibility, the giddy excitement over deciding exactly what my baby's nursery would be like. What colors would I choose? What outfits would he or she wear? What adorable bedding and art work would surround this little one? Just like all new moms, I was so excited to create a sweet, comfy home for my baby.
Nowhere in that fantasy was the NICU. Nowhere in that fantasy were ringing oxygen alarms, IV pumps, a ventilator, an isolette. Nowhere in that fantasy was a team of nurses and doctors snatching my baby from me, sending me home with empty arms to an empty nursery. I was fortunate and avoided the NICU for my baby, but with 20 years as a NICU nurse, I know that every day new parents' dreams are crushed, and the beautiful, comforting nursery at home has to be put on hold.
In it's place? Sterile, scary, loud, medical equipment, plastic boxes for beds, tubes, wires & endless hand sanitizer. Nothing like any parent dreams of.
The reality for most new preemie parents is that nothing feels right or good. And when everything else is stressful and upsetting, why is it that parents don't go ahead and surround themselves with comforting things there in the NICU?
Usually, it's because they're just too overwhelmed to think about it, and nobody tells them they can.
So, I'm here to tell you - YOU CAN! You can, and should, decorate your baby's space so that it feels as good and comforting as it possibly can for you.
You'll have to work with the rules of your own NICU, which vary quite a bit. Some NICUs let you bring in your own outfits for your baby, others won't. Some NICUs let you bring in stuffed animals for your baby, others won't. You get the picture...
But you absolutely have EVERY RIGHT to make your baby's bed feel as welcoming and homey to you as possible. And it's actually quite healing for you to do so.
Decorate the bed itself
NICU Crib Art that I've designed for Every Tiny Thing is the perfect way to add some cheer. These quotes and sweet illustrations attach right to the isolette, they're double sided so you can flip them for variety, and they're laminated to make them sanitizable. Designed by a NICU nurse means they're welcomed in any NICU because they work.
Photos from home of mom, dad, siblings, extended family, even your fur babies all can be taped to the bedside. (Here's something cool about doing that, in my opinion - not only does it personalize your space which makes it feel better to you, but it fosters better relationships with your NICU nurses when they see all the love and all the family members surrounding your little one.)
Blankets to cover the isolette can be a nice way to have some choice over what your baby's bed looks like. Some hospitals have custom, fitted isolette covers that keep out most of the light and noise, which may be necessary for your preemie....but sometimes parents drape a cute blanket they love over that. Also, as a preemie gets older (~32-34 weeks typically), those fitted covers can often be replaced by a typical blanket - something you love. My recommendation is to choose something with a plain backing so that the side facing your preemie isn't too over-stimulating.
Blankets can also be used as bedding in most NICUs. Thin blankets work best for this. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you'll probably be responsible for laundering the blankets, and you may honestly not want that added burden.
Create a name card. If your NICU doesn't already do this (most do), you can make a cute name card in the style you love so everyone knows your baby's name and attach it to the bed.
Decorate the walls
In your home nursery, you don't only decorate the crib, right? You decorate the whole darn place. So ask if you can do the same. Some awesome ideas I've seen are:
Pennants/buntings - they can be hung flat against the wall, or maybe even draped from the IV pole to the monitor or something fun like that!
Wall art - there are unlimited choices to match your style, and many can be purchased as digital download. So just spend a few bucks, and then ask the nurses for help finding a spot where you can hang your inspiring art.
These can be tucked away when you're not with your baby, but when you are there you'll have something sweet and "normal" to make sitting at the bedside for hours a little more comfortable. Consider a few different types of pillows you might enjoy:
Feeding pillows - these aren't only good for breast feeding, they're good for any kind of feeding. And they're quite supportive for extended holding sessions. Great for moms & dads alike!
Decorative pillows - these just make the space feel more festive! Nothing wrong with that! (They can't go in the crib, of course. No fluffy things in baby cribs anymore!)
Cute storage bins make keeping all your sweet baby stuff organized AND sweet. Whether you're keeping onesies or blankets, books or pillows organized for your baby, you certainly can find a fun way to do it. Take a look at your baby's NICU space and then find something just right. Most parents find a place next to the bed or under the crib.
Enhancing the NICU Sounds
OK, technically this isn't "decoration," but the sounds of the NICU are just as upsetting and aggravating as the tubes & wires, and there are a few tricks you should know about that can make a tremendous difference:
Play music for yourself - create a playlist of calming, inspiring, or uplifting music that you love and then bring your headphones with you when you visit your baby. As long as the nurses are okay with it (and it's pretty rare that they're not), you can tune out the alarms and tune into something just for you while you hold your baby or while you sit at the bedside. (Try Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, or even YouTube)
Bring a white noise machine to the bedside- When NICU babies have their own white noise machine, it's double benefit: 1. They hear calming sounds that comfort and mask some of the annoying NICU sounds. 2. When you take your baby home, your baby will be accustomed to the sound of your white noise machine and will be soothed by the familiar sound. (This isn't for babies still in the isolette, of course, but for older babies for whom a little white noise will be okay.)
Other fun ideas
Baby mobiles are a sweet way to bring some three-dimensional cuteness to the NICU. The staff can usually find a place for them for all but most medically fragile preemies. While they're still pre-term, preemies don't need the stimulation of a mobile, but these simple decorations hung somewhere near the bedside make the space feel baby-like and nurturing. When they're older, the mobile can be moved closer where your big cutie can enjoy it too.
Magnetic white boards, propped somewhere near the bedside, make a great place for you to leave notes for the nurses or for your little one, and they can also hold those little notes and cards in a fun way.
Wall decals also might be worth a try - they're under $20 for many of them, and they're removable. So why would the NICU mind that? I've never seen it done, but I think it would be awesome!
Fairy lights (like these above that hold photos, or just plain fairy lights) are such a cool way to make the night shift in the NICU almost magical. I discovered this trick from a fellow co-worker who had converted several night nurses into using fairy lights for the nighttime lighting - parents and babies alike loved it!
did you decorate your preemie's NICU space?
Brag about it here, share your brilliant ideas and share photos on Instagram (of course, we wanna see it!!!!! So tag @hellopreemie for sure!)