When your baby is in the NICU: A survival guide for parents

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Having your baby in the NICU can be very overwhelming for parents. This article gives you plenty of information on what happens in a hospital's NICU, who takes care of babies there and importantly, how you can prepare yourself and cope with the experience...

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.

baby is in the nicu

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 an NICU?

The NICU is an intensive care unit especially 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 an NICU and babies who need specialised 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.

baby is in the nicu

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:

Maternal factors

  • Drug or alcohol exposure
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Bleeding
  • Age younger than 16 or older than 40 years
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Premature rupture of the amniotic sac
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Delivery factors

  • 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)

Baby factors

  • 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
  • Seizures
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Medication or resuscitation soon after delivery
  • Infection 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 care for your baby in the NICU? Which hospitals in Singapore have an NICU? All this and more on the next page. 

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