Preemie Clothes for in the NICU

Newborn baby 22 days early, only weighing 5 pounds

Tatjana Kaufmann / Moment Open / Getty Images

One of the best NICU milestones is the day when you can finally start dressing your little one in his or her adorable preemie clothes. For those parents wondering when that day will finally come, you’ll be able to pull out your preemie clothes when:

  • Your baby’s skin is fully developed: Micropreemies are born with skin that is very thin. It may take a few weeks for his or her skin to be developed enough to wear even very tiny preemie clothes.
  • Your baby’s condition is stable: Until your baby’s cardiac, respiratory, and digestive systems are stable, nurses and doctors will need to keep his or her chest bare so that it’s easy to see and assess.
  • Umbilical lines have been discontinued: Even stable babies may have umbilical lines, IV lines in their umbilical cord stumps. These must be removed before babies can wear preemie clothes.
  • IV lines aren’t a problem: Regular IV lines and PICC lines may make it hard to get preemie clothes onto your little one. Some preemie clothes are designed with special flaps that open to allow for IV lines, and some outfits can be made to work around these lines.

Best Clothes for NICU Babies

Although it’s easy to find preemie sizes in stores and on websites, not all clothes will work for every premature baby.

A baby’s size, condition, and medical equipment all play a role in what preemie clothes he or she can wear.

  • Hats: Hats are a must in the NICU, even for very small or very sick preemies. Covering the head helps babies stay warm, and preemie hats are an easy knitting or crocheting project.
  • Diaper covers: Even the smallest and sickest NICU patients can wear a colorful cover over the diaper.
  • Booties: Although it can be hard to keep booties on tiny feet, they are adorable and can be worn by even very small babies with complex medical conditions.
  • Bodysuits: Bodysuits, like Gerber Onesies ™, can be worn by stable babies without umbilical lines, whose skin is fully developed.
  • Sleepers: One-piece pajamas with long sleeves and feet are wonderful for babies who are transitioning from a warm incubator to an open crib. Sleepers are easiest to use when they snap up the front, as monitor cords can be threaded out between the snaps. Zippers are harder to work with.

How to Wash Preemie Clothes

Preemies have sensitive skin and delicate respiratory systems, and strong odors or harsh chemicals may cause allergic reactions.

  • Always wash preemie clothes before wearing to remove dust and ensure cleanliness.
  • Wash clothing in warm or hot water, in a smoke-free environment.
  • Use a detergent that is perfume and dye-free.
  • Do not use fabric softeners and dryer sheets.

Benefits of Clothing in the NICU

Not only do preemies look adorable in tiny preemie clothes, but there may actually be some specific benefits to dressing preemies:

  • Improved thermoregulation: Babies stay warm better when they are dressed because they don’t lose heat as easily from drafts or from cold surfaces.
  • Improved bonding: Moms and dads tend to feel more comfortable around their babies when their babies are wearing clothes like a "real baby" instead of a NICU patient. They feel better getting involved with their baby’s care by changing diapers, taking temperatures, and holding babies close.
  • Less family stress: Parents of preemies who wear clothes tend to feel less stress around their babies. They interact more effectively with their babies because they worry less about medical conditions and focus more on the baby.
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  • Bosque, Elena RN, NNP, PhD and Haverman, Cathy RN, AA. "Making Babies Real: Dressing Infants in the NICU." Neonatal Network March/April 2009; 28, 85-91.

  • Linden, Ana Weschsler, Paroli, Emma Trenti, and Doron, Mia Wechsler. Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies Simon & Schuster, 2000.