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After the NICU: Developmental follow-up

By Amy Paradis, NNP

After a stay in the NICU, a medically fragile, very premature baby “graduates” and is discharged to go home. Because some NICU babies continue to have complex medical issues and are vulnerable to behavioral, neurological, developmental, or growth challenges later in childhood, they benefit from follow-up with a team of medical and developmental specialists. These programs do not replace routine care with a pediatrician or well-baby checks. Instead, they offer more in-depth evaluation of growth and developmental milestones.

Close monitoring and identification of growth or developmental delays or challenges allow for early intervention that may lead to improved outcomes in the future. Most states in the United States have mandates and guidelines about who qualifies for developmental follow-up. Typically, babies born before 32 weeks or at very low birth weight (under 1500 grams) are followed post-discharge. So are bigger babies that have had surgery, severe respiratory disease, or other serious diagnoses.

Babies who have been participants in research studies are also closely monitored after discharge. Your NICU team will let you know if your baby would benefit from this special follow-up. Information about your state’s criteria is also usually available online. Most special follow-up visits begin at 3 to 6 months adjusted age, or 3 to 6 months after your baby’s original due date. These visits usually continue until your baby is 2 to 3 years old.