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When Your Baby's in the NICU...

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A great guide any parent can use to explain what to expect if baby's in the NICU!

It can be frightening if your newborn needs to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). At first it may seem like a foreign place, but understanding the NICU and what goes on there can help reduce your fears and better help your baby.

What Is the NICU?
If your baby is sent to the NICU, your first question will probably 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 because they're developing so rapidly.

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're 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 there will be many people helping your child during the NICU stay, those who are the most responsible for your baby's day-to-day care will likely be nurses, whom you may come to know very well and may rely on to give your information and reassurances about your baby. The nurses you may interact with include a:

*charge nurse (the nurse in charge of the shift)
*primary nurse (the one assigned to your baby)
*clinical nurse specialist (someone with additional training in neonatology care)

You'll also meet many other people who may help care for your baby:

  • a 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)
  • various specialists (such as a neurologist, a cardiologist, or a surgeon) to treat specific issues with the brain, the heart, etc.
  • a respiratory therapist (who administers 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 the infants and their parents)
  • a pharmacist (who helps manage your baby's medications)
  • lab technicians (who process the laboratory tests - i.e., urine, blood - taken for your baby)
  • a chaplain (who can counsel you and try to provide comfort; chaplains may be interfaith or of a particular religious affiliation but they're there to support anyone looking for a spiritual/religious connection)
  • 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)

What Questions Should I Ask?
To better help you help your baby during his or her time in intensive care, it's a good idea to get as much information as possible about what to expect. If you have questions throughout your baby's stay in the unit, 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 or the resident. They have all the information about your baby and can talk to you about the big picture.



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