By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is like nothing you’ve ever seen before and it can be scary for new dads. Although hospitals put more emphasis than they used to on keeping NICUs quiet, they are, by necessity, fairly noisy and busy, with alarms going off, lights on day and night so hospital personnel can see what they’re doing, and at the center of it all, your little baby.

She may be hooked up to just a single monitor or perhaps so laden down with medical equipment and IV lines that you can scarcely find her.

The best way to deal with the NICU is to focus on your little part of the world. Get to know your baby’s nurses and stay near your baby’s incubator. Asking what’s wrong with other babies is really bad etiquette, and the nurses won’t (or shouldn’t) tell you, anyway.

Preterm babies are often moved from the hospital where they’re born to a level 3 nursery with advanced technology to handle complicated preterm issues. This can make your life difficult, especially if the new hospital is some distance from your house, but your baby’s care is ultimately worth it.

[Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA]

Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA

Some hospitals with large, regional NICUs have facilities that allow parents to stay overnight for a small charge or for free. Ronald McDonald houses are examples of facilities available near some hospitals.

If your partner is still in the hospital and can’t see the baby right away, make sure you take lots of pictures — not just of the baby but also of the neonatal unit and, if possible, of the people taking care of her. That way your partner can get a real sense of where the baby is and picture her in an actual place.

Some regional NICUs provide a video feed to community hospitals so that moms who are separated from their babies can maintain a connection until they have a chance to see the baby in person.

Expect the first time you hold your baby to be extremely awkward; she may be festooned in IV lines, and you’ll probably be scared to death of picking her up. Don’t worry; it gets easier with time. She’ll have less equipment attached, and you’ll get to be a pro at dealing with dangling wires.