A Guide to the NICU

What is NICU?

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a specialist area designed to look after and treat premature and ill babies. The NICU is equipped to deal with premature babies. The NICU staff are specially trained to care and treat premature babies.

Premature babies are generally moved to the NICU once they are stabilised, they may be taken up in a Radiant Heater.

What to Expect in the NICU?

Once your baby has been taken up to the NICU, the staff will carry out tests and an examination. At the time parents and family are often not allowed in there, so the staff can carry out their work quickly and easily, this can take up to 90 minutes. You will be kept informed about what is happing to your baby and if any procedures are required they will discuss that will you.

While they are away from you the following tests and procedures will be taking place:

  • The NICU staff will examine their breathing and see how much oxygen they are getting. If they are having trouble breathing they may x-ray their chest to find the reason.
  • They will take blood samples to check glucose, calcium, and bilirubin levels.
  • They will start an Intravenous Line (IV) to ensure your baby has fluids constantly.
  • General newborn routines will take place including a vitamin K injection to ensure there are no bleeding problems.
  • Antibiotics will be administered to their eyes to prevent infection.

Once you get into the NICU your baby maybe attached to monitors do not be alarmed they are there to help your baby. There are a lot of machines in the NICU, read our guide to the NICU Equipment.

Who will be looking after my Baby?

There are a lot of people that will be looking after your premature baby and supporting you in the NICU:

Neonatal Nurse – They have been specially trained to look after ill and premature babies. You will see different nurses as they change shift. A Charge Nurse is the nurse in charge of the shift. A Primary Nurse will be assigned to your baby; you will see both your Primary Nurse and the Charge Nurse.

Neonatal nurse practitioners – These are registered nurses who have had extra training and an advanced education. They will also have years of experience in the NICU.

Neonatologist – This is a doctor that has had 3 years extra training and specialises in looking after newborn babies. You will see the Neonatologist every day.

Your baby may need to see a specialist; there are many different specialists. Some of them you may see are:

Paediatric Surgeon – Specialises in children’s surgery

Paediatric Cardiologist – Specialises in heart problems

Paediatric Cardiac surgeon – Specialises in heart surgery

Paediatric Pulmonologist – Specialise in the lungs

Paediatric Nephrologist – Specialise in the kidneys

Other staff you may meet can include:

Respiratory Therapists – This person will help set up and administer respiratory treatments

Developmental Specialists – They will work with both the NICU staff and the parents at home. They are specialists in infant development and will advise on how to improve feeding skills and how to move your baby.

Neonatal Nutritionists – They will ensure you baby has all the nutrients they need

Neonatal Pharmacist – They will help manage your baby’s medication

Social Worker – They will help you cope with the stress of having a premature baby and can give advice in a number of areas.

NICU Clark – The NICU Clerk sits near the entrance to NICU and monitors who comes in and out.

Questions to Ask the Neonatal staff

The staff of the NICU is there to help and advise you as well as looking after your baby, feel free to ask them any questions. Make a note as they come to you so you don’t forget.

Some questions you may want to ask are –

  • What is specifically wrong with my baby? Ask them to explain so you can understand what’s happening.
  • How will they be treated?
  • What is involved with their care?
  • How long will they be in the NICU for?
  • What medication do they have to take and when?
  • How is my baby being fed?
  • How long can I stay with my baby?
  • Will I be able to breastfeed my baby?
  • Will someone help me with breastfeeding?
  • Will I be able to bottle feed my baby?
  • What tests does my baby have to have?
  • What care will I have to administer when we go home?
  • Will I be given advice before I leave?
  • Will someone becoming to my home to help?
  • Can I hold my baby?
  • What can I do?

Bonding With Your Baby in the NICU

Bonding with your newborn baby is really important and especially so with a premature baby. Don’t be scared by all the machines and wires you can still bond with your child.

  • As a parent you are generally allowed in the NICU 24 hours a day, your presence and voice will help with the bonding.
  • If you are able to hold your baby, then try skin to skin with them. Place your baby under your top on to your skin. You may need to undo their sleepsuit if they are wearing one so your skin is touching. Keep them covered so they stay warm.
  • If it’s possible then try breastfeeding or express and bottle feed them.
  • If you cannot hold them in your arms, then you may be able to stroke them or hold their hand.
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