What to Bring to the NICU (Printable Checklist)

Mom packing baby hospital bag.jpg

A “normal” pregnancy and delivery can be anything but normal and stress-free. Add a high-risk pregnancy, premature birth or infant who is experiencing other medical complications to the mix, and things can quickly become overwhelming. Whether you are preparing for a stay at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in advance of your delivery, or are adjusting to NICU life after your bundle of joy joined the world before you had planned, knowing what you should, and can, bring to the NICU is one thing you shouldn’t have to stress about.

Karla Pisarik, Family Support Liaison at UnityPoint Health - St. Luke’s, created a list of things to bring to the NICU to help streamline your packing process.

“Navigating life at the NICU can be confusing at first. Many new parents discover things they wish they had in hindsight. We hope this list will help new or soon-to-be parents worry less about what to bring to the NICU, allowing them to adjust more quickly and really focus on their newborn.”

What to Bring to the NICU

Baby Clothing

  • Newborn and preemie-sized clothing is provided by nearly all NICUs, but dressing your newborn in his/her own items can make you feel more at home. Although you may not be able to clothe your infant right away, check with your nurses to know when and what you can provide. You may also want to write your name or initials on the tag to distinguish your items.
  • Premature onesies with velcro closures can make it easier to adjust wires and tubes, and will not need to be removed if your newborn requires X-rays or other tests that prohibit metal.

Clothing for You

Depending on how long you will be in the NICU, you may not be sleeping at the hospital or staying at a nearby hotel. Regardless, the following items may be helpful during your time at the NICU.

  • Change of clothing, because you never know when or where substances are going to eject from your infant’s body.
  • Stain remover in case you have already utilized your spare set of clothes or a visitor becomes the next victim (let’s face it, babies don’t discriminate who they spit up or splatter on).
  • Jacket or sweater that can easily be removed - baby rooms and other areas of the NICU vary in temperature.
  • Robe if you are doing kangaroo care (skin-to-skin contact). A fluffy robe can make it easy to snuggle your baby on your chest while still staying warm and covered.
  • Laundry bag for your dirty clothes and your baby’s clothes once he/she can start wearing ones from home.
  • Slippers


  • Boppy Pillow in case your NICU doesn’t have one or it isn’t available for use. These horseshoe-shaped pillows are great for feedings and helping inexperienced visitors hold your newborn.
  • Baby blanket for a personal touch and scent recognition.
  • Blanket and pillow for you to nap or make your nesting room feel more comfortable.
  • Neck pillow to help you get some rest and relax, even when sitting in uncomfortable positions, pumping or providing kangaroo care.


The NICU will provide basic toiletries for your baby, but things like lotion and nail files will need to be brought from home as they are considered “cosmetic.” Having a few toiletries for yourself may also come in handy if you need to stay overnight.

  • Baby lotion for your baby after a bath.
  • Nail file to help keep your baby’s nails from getting too sharp.
  • Hand lotion to keep your hands from drying out from all the hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap you will be using.

Other toiletries for you:

  • Toothbrush
  • Face soap
  • Hair brush
  • Tissues


Packing a journal or notepad and a pen can help you record important medical information, as well as personal thoughts, milestones, etc. Not only will this help you see progress as you look back on where you started, but can help you remember important data that your pediatrician may not have after you leave the NICU.

  • Journal/notepad
  • Pen


Although your baby’s life may not have started as you imagined, it is still worth documenting!

  • Digital camera to take loads of pictures and track your baby’s growth and accomplishments. (Tip: Put an item in the picture with your infant, like a teddy bear or hand for a size comparison to help see growth.)
  • Disposable camera to leave at your newborn’s isolette. If they have time, your nurses can take photos while you are away so you don’t have to worry about missing any important milestones.


Although it may seem unnecessary, making your baby’s space personalized can help you feel more relaxed, which is important in the bonding process.

  • Family photos can make you feel more at home.
  • Baby foot- or handprints can often be created if you ask.

Food and Drink

Staying well-nourished and hydrated is important, especially if you are pumping or breastfeeding.

  • Snacks like nuts and dried fruit can help you stay full without having to waste time and money at the vending machine.
  • Insulated cups with a lid and straw are allowed in the baby rooms and are perfect to keep you hydrated.


While we all love the endless amount of information the internet provides, sometimes not having it at your fingertips to search every sign and symptom can be a good thing.

  • Books and magazines can help provide a temporary escape from your current stressors.
  • Music to help keep you relaxed. You may also be allowed to play music for your infant, but check with the nurse first.

Expect the Best with UnityPoint Health

Babies may be sent to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if they're born prematurely, have difficulties during delivery or show signs of a problem in their first days of life. UnityPoint Health's Neonatal Intensive Care Units offer equipment designed specifically for infants with staff specially trained in newborn care and conditions to provide in-hospital 24/7 coverage.