What happens if your baby is admitted to the NICU?
When babies enter the NICU, parents tend to be full of apprehension and nerves. Though the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit may seem terrifying, it helps care for babies undergoing serious health problems.
Deb Skopec, a NICU nurse at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill, sheds light on babies in the NICU.
What are frequent conditions NICU babies can have?
- Prematurity: Babies born less than 37 weeks gestation tend to be the most frequent cases.
- Hypoglycemia: Babies who have low blood sugar.
- Cardiac defects and surgical conditions
- PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of a Newborn): The NICU is not just for small babies. Bigger babies who have this condition require advanced ventilation to improve their pulmonary status. ECMO is a treatment that might be required to treat PPHN.
- Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: This occurs when babies are born from mothers using drugs. Losing the in-utero source of drug exposure causes the infant to experience withdrawal.
- Micro-preemies: Infants born at less than 26 weeks gestation.
“There is a large array of conditions that can prompt a NICU admission, but this list reflects some of the most common reasons for a NICU stay,” says Skopec. “In the NICU, we strive to provide family center individualized care. Micro-preemies, especially need multi-person care because procedures for these infants tend to be very stressful. Regardless, each baby is different to meet the care that they need.”
- Transition issues when babies come out: Breathing and respiratory troubles.
- Concern with feedings and infections.
“If a mom has a specific medical condition, and we know the baby will be in the NICU, I start this dialogue between parents early in prenatal care so they gain a deeper understanding,” says Skay.
Who works in the NICU?
According to Skopec, NICU babies require care from a wide variety of physicians and nurses, neonatologists, other specialty consult services (cardiology, neurology, etc.) respiratory therapists, occupational and physical therapists, speech and music therapists, developmental care, social workers, nutritionists, lactation consultants, family advisors and chaplains.
What type of equipment is used?
- Radiant warmers: Provide heat to help regulate babies’ temperatures when they don’t have the ability to regulate their own temperature.
- Ventilators & CPAP machines: Offer respiratory support.
- IV Fluids, Feeding tubes and Pumps: Many NICU babies aren’t ready to feed themselves and need nutritional support.
- Phototherapy: Blue lights that break down the bilirubin causing jaundice through the baby’s skin.
- Cardiovascular and Respiratory Monitors: Provide ongoing monitoring of the infant and send alarms to staff phones.
- Cycle-lighting: Simulate day and night.
- ECMO: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is used for more advanced life-support.
- Cooling Blankets: Utilized to help protect a baby’s brain.
How can parents be involved?
- Participate in daily rounds: This is beneficial because parents know their baby the best.
- Meet with a lactation consultant: The consultant will tell moms the importance of providing human milk for their baby and assist the mom with her lactation needs.
- Hands-On Support: Diaper changes or anything a parent can do to feel more like “mom” and “dad”.
- Kangaroo Care and Touch: Skin-to-skin contact, where the baby lays on a parent’s chest.
- Attend Supportive Programs: Prayer meditation, music and massage therapy, yoga and crafts are just a few.
- Celebrate Holidays: Dress babies up, commemorate their first feeding, bath or initial time they’re held; The NICU wants parents to remember these milestones.
Babies in the NICU can stay for a few weeks or three-four months, but some may require longer care. Before going home, babies must pass a car seat check and hearing test while gaining weight and maintaining their temperature.
A valuable reminder? “I always tell parents to be active participants in your baby’s care, trust your care team and most importantly, trust your own instincts – because ultimately, you know your child the best,” says Skopec.
Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital recently opened their state-of-the-art level III NICU, which provides the highest level of care for premature and critically care infants. The unit is six times larger than before, which allows up to 24 newborns to be cared for. The facility has specially trained neonatologists, nurses, therapists and staff along with the latest neonatal technology and monitoring. There are ten private rooms, one isolation room as well as overnight accommodations for parents, including a family lounge, kitchenette and lactation room.
About the Author
Kelsey Andeway, health e-news contributor, is a public affairs intern at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago earning a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Dance. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing, baking, and taking long walks with her Chocolate Lab.