Babies and toddlers with colorfully painted faces walked, crawled and stumbled through the Touro Family Birthing Center on Saturday to reunite with the nurses and doctors who helped them in the first few days and months of their lives.

All these children had one thing in common: They had been cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Now with a clown face-painter, story time and lots and lots of cupcakes, they were brought together for a reunion with the opening of new NICU facilities.

Kristen Hilburn, of Columbia, Miss., the mother of 9-month-old triplets who stayed in the NICU for two weeks, was a member of one of 100 families who turned up for the reunion.

“My girls were 10 weeks early, and we stayed here for about two weeks before transferring closer to home, and we stayed there until they were 6 weeks old,” Hilburn said.

Hilburn has had heart issues from a very young age and had to undergo surgery at 11 at Children’s Hospital here in New Orleans. During her pregnancy her heart issue became worse and she was admitted to Touro a week before she delivered.

“I was already prepared for a premature birth ... and afterward I had to stay in ICU for a couple of days,” Hilburn said.

NICU cares for premature babies or babies that are born with cardiac, gastro or other birth defects that require specialized care.

Depending on the severity of the health care issues, babies can be in the NICU for days or months.

“We are a level three facility, which means the only things we don’t do is surgery and advanced ventilator support. Some of our more critical cases are transferred to Children’s Hospital,” said Ivy Rouzan, patient care manager for NICU.

There are about 18 babies in the NICU on an average day, said chief nursing officer Penny Menge.

“We are finding that one in every seven births today, premature births, or birth defects require this specialized care,” Menge said.

Corrie Moran, a registered nurse and lactation consultant at Touro, spent nearly seven weeks in NICU with her now 14-month-old son, Harrison Moran.

“Harrison was born at 29 weeks after I had some complications,” Moran said. “It was very scary because being a nurse at the hospital here, you know everything that can go wrong and how serious it is.”

Harrison’s father, John Moran, remembered how difficult it was, waiting for all of Harrison’s test results and ensuring that he was feeding and developing properly.

“They had to rule out everything, so they checked his brain, vision, hearing, making sure the digestive system was working properly. And being born that early he didn’t know how to eat,” John Moran said.

“The difficult part, too, was that Corrie trains people on how to breastfeed every day, and then she couldn’t do it because he was too young to breastfeed.

“It was hard for her to see that she can’t do what she was an expert at.”

At the reunion, thriving former NICU children were once again doted upon by the nurses and doctors who had looked after them.

“We are so thankful to all the doctors and nurses,” Moran said.

“Coming back to work after maternity leave gave me a different perspective: It is now easier to put myself in (the mother’s) shoes.”