My Must-Haves for the NICU

Having a baby in the NICU is challenging. It certainly was for us – especially for those first time NICU parents who had no idea what to expect (that was us!). Whether you’ll be in the NICU for 3 weeks or 3 months, it makes the journey easier when you’re packed and prepared for your trips to visit your baby. Before our delivery, I had our diaper bag picked out and half-packed. But after spending the first week in the NICU while we were still in the hospital, I started making notes of the items that I wanted/needed to bring during my visits, and knew it’d be good to get another dedicated bag just for the NICU. For 2.5 months, this was the only bag I carried around with me – it had everything I needed for the day, and even a little room for more (like those dirty clothes from the NICU that mom had to wash!).

So for the bag of choice, I picked up this beauty on Facebook Marketplace. Our regular diaper bag was the SkipHop Duo, so when I found another SkipHop for $30 that was marketed as “used only twice”, I had to grab it (normally retails for $99!). While we wouldn’t be using it to hold baby items like diapers and milk, the millions of pockets and nooks in the bag were still helpful to have to keep everything organized. And now, post-NICU, we have a secondary diaper bag that we can use as back-up if we ever needed to. So, let’s unpack and see!



I tried to always keep at least 1 book per category in my bag: baby book, baby/preemie educational book and a novel. Baby books, of course, are great to read and we’d read 2 every night before we leave. But you would get through them so quickly! During the day, I found it much better to read a novel aloud while she was awake, so that reading time could go much longer. I chose to start reading “Harry Potter” to our little one, using one of the special editions that had up to this point only had been shelf décor. Because we missed taking baby prep classes that would have been in the 3rd trimester, we tried to use our NICU time to read up on educational materials too. Specifically, Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies was highly recommend by the staff and was super informative on the preemie journey.


As a preemie parent, we started the exclusive pumping journey on day 2 in the hospital. The first thing I did was order enough flanges and pump parts to split between the NICU and my home to make sure that I had enough to pump without having to clean parts every single time. What I found the most critical to have with me at all times for my pumping periods was a hands-free bra, LaVie Warming Lactation Massagers (seriously, so worth it!), cloth diaper (to use as a milk wipe or cushion in my bra if my breasts were sore after) and lactation cookies.


After the NICU, your perception of washing your hands changes forever. That 3-minute scrub every visit, the sanitizing and cleansing before touching your baby. One thing’s for sure, I knew my hands were clean and my baby was safe from germs when I interacted with her – but my hands definitely paid a price. So, I started keeping moisturizer in my bag to keep them from getting too dry, especially in the winter. I also carried along a spray sanitizer, nail clippers (to keep my nails trimmed and groomed for when I touched our baby), an extra mask and pain relievers. Oh, and always a bag of peanut butter M&M’s.


Fortunately our NICU let us bring blankets to use, so I pretty much supplied them for our baby the entire stay. I’d bring in about 3-4 every few days so that the drawer wasn’t too full, but there’d be some there in case our little one had an accident. I always kept a clean one in my bag in case I needed it as well. These were my favorite as they were cotton like the NICU liked, and the perfect size for our little one – plus the lemon and dinosaur patterned ones were the best.

For milk transport, I ordered the Skip Hop bottle insulated bag. It was perfect for stuffing with fresh and frozen pumped milk to bring to the NICU. It was small enough to fit in my bag, but big enough to hold plenty of bottles.


The last set of things in my bag are items for me to pass the time between touch times. I’d bring along my iPad and Logitech pencil, whether to watch some series or take notes when speaking with the staff, a coloring book to keep my brain busy or ‘thank you cards’ to write for gifts or help we received. Whether you prefer digital or paper, I highly recommend always keeping a notebook or tablet in your bag for notes and tracking. Journaling can be therapeutic, as well as keeping track of milestones and dates so that you have those to look back on. Also you never know who your neighbors or roommates will be in the NICU, so I’d keep a pair of earbuds or headphones in your bag.

Things to consider packing in your NICU bag:

  • Tablet and/or notebook with pen
  • Books (children’s, educational, novel)
  • Hand wipes, sanitizer
  • Moisturizer and hand lotion
  • Nail clippers
  • Hands-free pumping bra
  • Extra set of pumping parts
  • Zip lock bags (for dirty pump parts, dirty items)
  • Lactation warmer and massagers
  • Extra mask
  • Insulated bottle bag with ice pack
  • Pain relievers
  • Time-killer activities (personal book, coloring book, headphones)
  • Soft cloth or wipe (for pumping)
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • 6′ phone charger
  • Extra receiving blanket


  • Remember to check with your NICU first on bringing personal items for your baby. Fortunately we were able to bring in blankets, clothing and small decor to personalize the space. Due to my sensitive skin, we already used free & clear detergent at home, so fortunately didn’t have to change our routine for laundry.
  • Label any personal items – be sure to mark your last name in any clothing, blankets or items so that it’s known it’s a personal item. A good rule of thumb is also to avoid bringing any items with significant value in case they do accidentally get tossed with the NICU inventory or laundry. Be sure to inform your nurses that you bring your own blankets and/or clothes too.
  • Be strategic with your NICU attire – upon arrival, you’ll have to wash your hands and arms for 2-3 minutes, so I recommend wearing something you can easily push or fold up to your elbows, particularly in the winter months where you may be wearing long sleeves. The temperature in the NICU can vary sometimes based on where your baby is. In one room, we’d always be freezing since we were right next to the window, but in another room, we were sweating. I recommend packing a light jacket or cardigan, and possibly even a small blanket depending on where your NICU is and what season you’re in.
  • Bring along zip-lock bags, folder or envelope – many nurses, particularly the evening shift, will often times create crafts, milestone markers or send home trinkets from your baby’s stay. To make sure it doesn’t get misplaced or smashed in your bag, create a dedicated space or container for those items for safe transport from the hospital to your home for keepsake.

What are some items that you found helpful with your baby in the NICU? Comment below!

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