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Learning About Infant Care in the NICU

What is the NICU?

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is the part of the hospital where premature or sick newborns are given care.

But the NICU (say "NIK-yoo") is much more than a place in the hospital. It's where these three elements work together to give your baby the best possible care: Staff, technology, and you.

The NICU staff who care for your baby are specially trained. They may include:

  • Your baby's doctor.
  • A neonatologist, who specializes in the care of newborns.
  • Specialists skilled in the treatment of your baby's particular problem.
  • Nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners.
  • Respiratory therapists.
  • Technologists.
  • Social workers.

NICU technology helps your baby in many ways:

  • Your baby will be kept in a special bed called an Isolette. It provides warmth and calm in the busy NICU.
  • Monitors will track body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Other equipment may supply medicine, air, food, and fluids.

You are a big part of the care team, too. Your baby needs you. Working with the NICU staff, you'll find out about your baby's needs and what you can do for him or her. You'll learn about technology, medical words, rules, and procedures. When your baby's condition permits, you may also help with breast milk and cuddling. During your baby's stay in the NICU, you and the NICU staff will get to know each other well. Be sure to ask questions and join in the discussions about your baby's care.

What can you expect?

  • You may see tubes and wires attached to your baby. This can be scary to see. But these things help the doctor treat your baby. The tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines to your baby. The wires are attached to machines that help the doctor keep track of your baby's vital signs.
  • It may seem that your baby is getting lots of tests. All of these tests help your doctor keep track of your baby's condition and give the best treatment possible.
  • If your baby has trouble breathing, the doctor may use a ventilator. This machine helps your baby breathe. To do this, the doctor puts a soft tube through your baby's mouth into the windpipe.
  • Your baby may need oxygen. It is given to the baby through a tube in the nose or throat.
  • The hospital staff will give your baby the nutrition he or she needs. The doctor may feed your baby through a soft tube that goes through the nose and into the stomach. Or the doctor may use an I.V. that goes through the belly button to do this.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about his or her condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, get support from friends and family. Ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

Where can you learn more?

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