The NICU: When Your Newborn Needs Extra Care
When your newborn needs extra care, there’s no better place to receive it than in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A NICU has staff that has specialized training in newborn care. It also has equipment that has been designed to help tiny patients transition from the womb to the outside world.
Reasons Newborns Need the NICU
Your newborn may be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if he or she is born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), experienced problems during delivery, or has a health condition, such as a heart problem or birth defect. The length of time your newborn will stay in the NICU will depend on his or her condition and if any other problems develop.
The NICU Healthcare Team
While your newborn is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a healthcare team will work together to care for your child. Depending on your child’s condition, any of the following NICU staff members may be involved:
- A pediatrician called a neonatologist who has additional training in caring for sick and premature babies
- A registered nurse with specialized training in the care of newborns
- Respiratory therapists to help your newborn adjust to breathing air through his or her lungs
- Pharmacists to help doctors choose medications and provide the right dosages
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapists to make sure your baby is developing properly
- Dietitians to ensure your newborn gets appropriate nutrition
- Lactation consultants to help breastfeeding mothers
- Hospital chaplains to provide spiritual support to parents
- Social workers to help parents cope with their emotions
The Parent’s Role in the NICU
Parents of sick newborns also experience a wide range of emotions while their newborn is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This is a natural response to a stressful situation. But there are some things parents can do to cope with the situation:
- Create a routine while your child is in the hospital. Spend time with your baby, interact with them, and help with their care when it is safe to do so.
- You should also allow yourself to have some time alone and with other family members.
- Join a parent support group to talk to others who have gone through similar experiences.
- If you are spiritual, ask to speak with the hospital chaplain or contact your spiritual minister to ask for spiritual support.
- Use a journal to help express your thoughts and feelings.
- Accept help from family members and friends. Give them ideas on what they can do to be helpful, such as making meals for the family or babysitting your older children.
- Ask to speak with a therapist who is familiar with helping families of sick newborns.
It is important for parents to stay informed while their child is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The experience can be overwhelming. So, consider asking the following questions to gather information about your child’s condition and treatment:
- Why is my baby in the NICU?
- How long will my baby be in the NICU?
- What treatment will my newborn get while in the NICU?
- What medications will my newborn be given?
- What tests may be done?
- Can I breastfeed or bottle feed my baby?
- Can I hold my baby?
By talking openly and regularly with your newborn’s doctor, you can take an active role in your newborn’s care. Remember, a parent’s role in a newborn’s recovery is important. Ask staff members how you can begin to bond with your baby while he or she is receiving care. The NICU staff is there to help.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Becoming a parent in the NICU. March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/becoming-a-parent-in-the-nicu.aspx. Accessed October 11, 2016.
Common conditions treated in the NICU. March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/common-conditions-treated-in-the-nicu.aspx. Updated August 2014. Accessed October 11, 2016.
The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Stanford Children’s Health website. Available at: http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-neonatal-intensive-care-unit-nicu-90-P02389. Accessed October 11, 2016.
When your baby’s in the NICU. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:http://teenshealth.org/en/parents/nicu-caring.html. Updated October 2014. Accessed October 11, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated 12/29/2016