An Important Overview of the NICU

Photo Credit: Tamaki Sono from Flickr

Understanding the NICU

Most couples envision the day when their baby will come home from the hospital, so they may feel frightened and overwhelmed when they learn that their baby must stay in the NICU. By understanding what the NICU is, new parents can learn how to manage the time their baby will be there.

What is the NICU?

The NICU is the neonatal intensive care unit. It is a specialized unit of the hospital that only cares for sick or premature newborn babies. The unit has specialized medical equipment and a team of neonatal nurses and pediatricians on staff.  While most babies are admitted to the NICU immediately after birth, babies can be admitted to the NICU anytime during the first 28 days of life. NICUs are composed of three different levels.

Level I: A level I NICU is also known as the healthy baby nursery. Some hospitals may simply use the nurses’ station as a nursery for newborn babies.

Level II: The level II NICU is a place for babies that were born slightly premature or developed a problem after birth. The babies in this unit may need specialized feedings or oxygen supplementation.

Level III: A Level III NICU cares for babies who have conditions that cannot be treated in either of the other two units. The babies may need the use of specialized medical equipment or continuous monitoring.

Do all hospitals have a NICU?

Not all hospitals have a NICU. In some cases, a baby may be transferred to another hospital after birth, while his or her mother must remain at the original hospital. Parents should look for hospitals that have a NICU if they are facing the possibility of premature labor or know that their baby has a health condition before birth.

Why do babies need to be placed in the NICU?

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