The neonatal intensive care uni,t or NICU, is a place where babies that need special medical attention. There are a number of reasons why a baby may need to stay in the NICU that range from being born very premature to experiencing an infection or complication during birth that requires extra attention.
Most often, babies are immediately transferred to the NICU after birth. As a new parent, this can be a scary and uncertain experience. However, the NICU is home to a variety of specialists who are well-trained in caring for your little one. In the NICU, your baby will be assigned to a nurse. This primary nurse will monitor your baby throughout their shift, checking vital signs, providing feedings when indicated, and administering medications. In addition to the nurses who care for your baby around the clock, there is a neonatologist, who is a doctor specializing in caring for newborns with medical needs. You may also see respiratory therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists, physical therapists, pharmacists, and social workers as part of the nenonatal care team.
Learning how to communicate and have your questions answered can be challenging as you likely haven’t ever had to navigate a healthcare environment like the NICU. Concern, stress, and lack of sleep can all play a role in the breakdown of communication. Therefore, it’s important to establish information early on and ask all the questions you need to ensure you know the exact plan of care for your baby.
If your baby is being transferred to the NICU, talk to the doctor who’s taking care of your baby. Ask questions, such as:
If your doctor discusses a term you don’t understand or you are unsure about a particular condition or treatment, ask questions. It’s important you are as informed as possible.
Often, a NICU will have visiting hours. This isn’t to keep parents or family members away, but to ensure your baby is able to receive the care they need to get better. Babies often need rest and as little stimulation as they are growing stronger so they can conserve their energy. Frequent visits and disruptions could affect this needed time. Ask your baby’s nurse about visiting hours and how you can maximize these visits, such as through skin-to-skin contact or providing breast milk for feedings.
A stay in the NICU can be very stressful, especially if your baby may require a months-long stay. It’s important to rest when possible and to enlist the help of social workers at the hospital, who can find services for you, such as discounted hotels to stay at near the hospital or even at a facility, such as the Ronald McDonald House where parents can stay while they’re child is receiving care. While you should take care of your baby, you also must take care of yourself so you will be at your strongest when it is time to bring baby home.