When your child is in the NICU

If your baby is sent to the NICU, your first question probably will be: What is this place? With equipment designed for infants and a hospital staff who have special training in newborn care, the NICU is an intensive care unit created for sick newborns who need specialized treatment. Sometimes the NICU is also called:
  • * A special care nursery
  • * An intensive care nursery
  • * Newborn intensive care
Babies who need to go to the unit are often admitted within the first 24 hours after birth. Babies may be sent to the NICU if:
  • * They are born prematurely
  • * Difficulties occur during their delivery
  • * They show signs of a problem in the first few days of life
Only very young babies (or babies with a condition linked to being born prematurely) are treated in the NICU – they're usually infants who haven't gone home from the hospital yet after being born. How long these infants remain in the unit depends on the severity of their illness.
Who will be taking care of my baby?
Although many people help care for babies in the NICU, those most responsible for day-to-day care are nurses, whom you may come to know very well and rely on to give you information and reassurances about your baby. The nurses you might interact with include a:
  • * Charge Nurse (the nurse in charge of the shift)
  • * Primary Nurse (the one assigned to your baby)
  • * Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (someone with additional training in neonatology care)
  • Other people who may help care for your baby include:
  • * Neonatologist (a doctor specializing in newborn intensive care who heads up the medical team)
  • * Neonatology Fellows, Medical Residents, and Medical Students (all pursuing their training at different levels)
  • * Pediatric Hospitalist (a pediatrician who works solely in the hospital setting)
  • * various specialists (such as a Neurologist, a Cardiologist, or a Surgeon) to treat specific issues with the brain, heart, etc.)
  • * a Respiratory Therapist (who helps administer treatments that help with breathing)
  • * a Nutritionist (who can determine what babies on IV nutrition need)
  • * a Physical Therapist and/or Occupational Therapist (who work with feeding and movement issues with infants and their parents)
  • * a Pharmacist (who helps manage a baby's medication)
  • * Lab Technicians (who process the laboratory tests - i.e., urine, blood)
  • * a Social Worker (who helps you get the services you need and also lends emotional support by connecting you to other families and therapists, if needed).
Questions to Ask the Neonatologist or the Nurses
To better help you help your baby during a stay in intensive care, it's wise to get as much information as possible about what to expect. If you have questions, talk to the neonatologist or the nurses. The nurses see your baby every day, so they can give you frequent updates on your little one. Remember, though, that nurses do not make diagnoses. To discuss a diagnosis or your baby's overall plan of care, find the neonatologist, fellow, nurse practitioner, hospitalist, or the resident. They have all the information about your baby and can talk to you about the big picture. Some things you might want to ask the neonatologist and/or the nurses include:
  • * How long will my baby be in the unit?
  • * What, specifically, is the problem?
  • * What will be involved in my baby's treatment and daily care?
  • * What medicines will my baby have to take?
  • * What types of tests will be done?
  • * What can my baby eat and when?
  • * Will I be able to nurse or bottle-feed my baby - if so, when and how?
  • * Will someone help me learn how to nurse my baby?
  • * What can I do to help my baby?
  • * Will I be able to hold or touch my baby?
  • * How often and for how long can I stay in the unit? Can I sleep there?
  • * What sort of care will my baby need when we get home?
  • * Is there someone who can help us through the process?
You may also want to talk to the nurses in more detail about your baby's daily care and what to expect when you spend time with your little one. You should also learn the visiting schedule and any rules of the NICU so you'll know which family members can see the baby and when they can visit.