Having a baby and taking him home is something all mums and dads look forward to, whether they are first time parents or not.
So it can be really frightening and overwhelming for parents if they need to leave their newborn in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) instead.
But it doesn’t have to be this scary if you understand the NICU and what happens in there — which is what you will learn in this article.
Seeing your baby in the NICU is overwhelming. But when you understand what goes on there, you may find that coping with this experience is a little easier.
What is a NICU?
The NICU is an intensive care unit specially designed for the tiniest of patients who need special care. It contains equipment designed for this purpose and is manned by staff specially trained in neonatal care — so you can rest assured that your infant will get only the very best of care.
Some hospitals do not have a NICU and babies who need specialized care will have to be transferred to a hospital that has one.
A hospital’s NICU is very different from a regular baby nursery. If you take a tour of a NICU unit, you’ll notice that the babies there are often smaller and quieter than their regular nursery counterparts.
Some might be inside incubators while others might be lying in cots under heat lamps to help regulate their body temperatures.
Then, you may also notice another group of babies who are still small but healthy, and in open cots free of equipment. These little ones are known as the “feeders and growers” — they are busy getting ready to either be moved to the regular nursery or go home with mummy and daddy.
How long a baby will stay in the NICU depends on how severe his condition is and the type of treatment he needs.
Prematurity is the main reason that babies need to be cared for in the NICU
Why do babies need to go to the NICU?
The most common reason that babies end up in the hospital’s NICU is because of premature birth — which is one that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy, according to Mayo Clinic.
Other babies may be cared for in the NICU because they have had a difficult birth, have medical conditions such as health problems or infections, or need surgery.
The following list, adapted from Stanford Children’s Health, details the factors that may increase the chances of a baby being admitted to the NICU after birth:
- Drug or alcohol exposure
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Age younger than 16 or older than 40 years
- Multiple pregnancies
- Premature rupture of the amniotic sac
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Breech delivery (buttocks delivered first)
- Fetal distress/ birth asphyxia (due to lack of oxygen)
- Forceps or C-section
- Presence of meconium (baby’s first stool) in the amniotic fluid
- Nuchal cord (umbilical cord around baby’s neck)
- Birth at gestational age less than 37 weeks or more than 42 weeks
- Birth weight less than 2,500 grams or over 4,000 grams
- Medication or resuscitation soon after delivery
- Infections such as chlamydia, herpes, or group B streprococcus
- Birth defects
- Need for extra oxygen or monitoring, medications, or intravenous (IV) therapy
- Need for special procedures such as a blood transfusion
Who will look after your baby in the NICU?
A NICU will have a team of highly specialized health care professionals involved in the care of babies there. This team may include:
- Neonatologist, who is a pediatrician with specialized training in the care of sick and premature babies.
- Respiratory therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Lactation consultants
- Social workers
- Hospital chaplains
All members of a NICU team work closely with parents also, to develop an appropriate plan of care for their baby.
A NICU will also usually have parents’ support groups and other programs specially designed for maximum parental involvement.
Premature baby problems: 14 Short-term and long-term health issues faced by premature babies
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Mga Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) sa Maynila
A team of highly specialized medical professionals provides the best care
NICUs in the Manila, Philippines
*The following information is adapted from this article, click here*
There are nine NICUs in the Philippines
- Philippine General Hospital
- Philippine Children’s Medical Center
- The Medical City
- Asian Hospital and Medical Center
- Manila Doctors Hospital
- St. Luke’s Medical Center
- Cardinal Santos Medical Center
NICUs are usually ranked by the complexity of cases they can handle. For example, a Level 3 NICU will handle the most complicated cases.
The difference between NICUs in the Philippines
The biggest difference is related to cost, between public and private hospital NICUs. Of course, when you go to a private hospital the cost might be pricey.
Support each other… and don’t forget to look after yourself too, in order to get through your NICU experience
Getting through the NICU experience
Some parents know well in advance that their baby will have a NICU stay. However, others won’t know until they are in the delivery room. Either way, it’s good for parents to prepare themselves for this possibility.
Here are some tips to help you do this.
Take a tour
If you know, or there’s a chance you may deliver preterm, or have other risk factors that might mean your baby will have to stay in the NICU, ask to take a tour of the NICU and meet the neonatologist in advance.
This way, you can build a rapport with the NICU staff even before your baby is born, and learn about what to expect, should your baby be admitted there, says Dr. Terri Slagle, the Director of California Pacific’s Neonatal Outreach Program, in San Francisco.
Expect ups and downs
If your baby is admitted to the NICU, you will probably experience a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows — including a sense of powerlessness.
The most important thing to do is not blame yourself and focus on thinking about the day you will take your baby home.
Be prepared to pump
Many premature babies are not strong enough to directly breastfeed. But they benefit immensely from your breastmilk which is especially rich in certain proteins and amino acids in comparison to the milk of full-term babies.
Pumping also gives you back a small sense of power — that you are able to do something to help your baby.
Kangaroo care can help parents bond with their NICU babies.
Your baby might look so tiny and fragile. But he needs you more than ever, especially your touch. And you can do this through “kangaroo care”.
This is a therapeutic touch technique that involves skin-to-skin contact between baby and parent and is offered and encouraged in some NICUs.
Skin-to-skin contact will also help you bond with your baby, and like pumping, gives you the opportunity to help your baby thrive.
Talk to other parents
The NICU can feel like a very lonely place for parents, even though it’s a bustling hive of activity. So connect with other parents of NICU babies through support groups where talking bout your experience can help you cope.
Be there for each other and look after yourself
Give yourself some downtime and take turns in the NICU bedside vigil. Getting enough rest will help keep your spirits up, knowing that your baby is getting the best possible medical care.
Don’t forget to communicate your feelings and emotions to your partner, asking them too how they’re feeling and coping at the same time.
Watch this video now to see what a day in the life of a NICU nurse is like:
Stanford Children’s Health