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Premature Baby: Special Care in the NICU

Who works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is the part of the hospital where premature or sick newborns get care. The NICU staff is a team of specially trained doctors, nurses, and support staff. Their job is to give your baby the best medical care possible.

The staff members know what you're going through. You'll work closely with them while your baby is in the NICU. And you may get to know many of them quite well.

The NICU can seem like a crowded place. At different times during your baby's stay, 10 or more staff members may be on hand to help your baby.

Here are some of the people who work in the NICU.

  • A neonatologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of newborns. He or she directs your baby's care.
  • A neonatal nurse practitioner is a nurse with advanced training in the care of newborns.
  • Specialists are doctors who focus on certain areas of medicine. For example, your baby's doctor may get help from a cardiologist for treating a heart problem.
  • Nurses care for your baby day by day. They bathe and change your baby and watch your baby's vital signs. The nurses are also your teachers. As your baby gets stronger, they'll show you how to take over many daily tasks. Often parents grow very close to their NICU nurses.

The doctors and nurses rely on a support staff.

  • Respiratory therapists help treat any breathing problems your baby may have.
  • Technicians operate some of the equipment in the NICU. This may include X-ray machines, ventilators, and feeding equipment.
  • The pharmacist prepares your baby's medicines.
  • The social worker helps you while others help your baby. He or she is your guide to the NICU. The social worker helps you understand how the NICU works and handles discharge planning when your baby is ready to go home. He or she can also help if you have disagreements with any members of the NICU staff.
  • Most hospitals have a chaplain or spiritual adviser available.
  • The NICU clerk is the administrative assistant for the unit. He or she keeps track of everything that goes on in the NICU. This person can be a great contact for you.

While the staff gives medical care, you are there to give your baby the things you can give best: love, cuddling, breast milk, and more. You also make the decisions about your baby's care. The staff knows that this is all new to you. They expect you to have questions and will do their best to answer them.

After the NICU: Caring for Your Baby at Home

Caring for Yourself While Your Baby Is in the NICU

What else do you need to know about infant feeding in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

You may feel overwhelmed with emotion and information. You and your loved ones may handle issues and feelings in different ways. This can create a strain. Take time to think of yourself. Try to get enough rest and food. Arrange for and accept as much help from friends and family as you can. Visit with a friend, spiritual adviser, counselor, or social worker. It helps to talk about how you feel. Your hospital may have a support group for NICU parents.

What is a parent’s role in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

You're an important part of your baby's NICU care team. At first, you'll be able to touch or hold your baby. A mother can pump breast milk for tube feeding. As your baby grows stronger, you'll take on more caregiving tasks, such as bathing. The NICU nurses will teach you and answer your questions.

What is the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is the part of the hospital where premature or sick newborns are cared for. It may be scary to see your baby in the NICU. The hospital staff understands this. They will explain what happens and will answer your questions.

You may not feel very important compared to all the people and machines involved in your baby's care. But you are important. Your baby needs you. To babies, the most important people in the world are their family members.

You are a big part of your baby's care team. The NICU staff can help you understand your baby's needs. They can help you learn about the technology, medical words, rules, and procedures in the NICU. But you know what matters to your family. You will make the decisions about what is best for your baby.

How can your family help in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

By spending time in the NICU, you will get to know your baby, and your baby will get to know you. The NICU staff will support your spending as much time with your baby as you can.

The staff will help you learn what you can do for your baby in the NICU. For example:

  • You may not be able to pick up your baby at first, but you can hold your baby's hand or foot. Touch can help you bond.
  • You can talk to your baby. Your voice is already familiar and comforting to your baby.
  • You can feed your baby or be present for feedings.
  • You can bring in special items for your baby, such as a hat, a blanket, a soft toy, or family photos.

There may be other things you can do for your baby too. The NICU is a busy place, and it may be hard to speak up. But you are the best advocate for your baby. The staff knows that you will have questions. They will help you get them answered and help you provide as much care for your baby as you can.

It is a good idea to be present when the nurses change shifts and the doctors visit the NICU. This will help you know the hospital staff and learn more about your baby's care.

What can you expect if your baby is getting breathing support in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

  • Over time, your baby may not need as much breathing support. As your baby gets stronger, the doctor may move your baby from the ventilator to a CPAP machine, then to a nasal cannula with oxygen, and finally to breathing without the need for help.
  • You may see tubes and wires attached to your baby. This can be scary to see. But these things help the doctor treat your baby. The tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines to your baby. The wires are attached to machines that help the doctor keep track of your baby's vital signs. These include temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about his or her condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family. You can also ask the hospital staff about counseling and support.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.