Most parents hope for a smooth, healthy birth, and that is usually the way it goes. According to the World Health Organization, somewhere between 90-95% of births are normal and healthy; however, when your newborn needs to go to the NICU (or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), it means that the baby requires a higher level of care and extra help with the transition to the outside world.
There are several reasons why your baby might need to spend some time in the NICU. In all of those cases, the NICU will give your baby the best possible chance for a long, happy, and healthy childhood. Despite that, there is no getting around the fact that this can be a stressful, lonely, and understandably scary time for parents.
The more you know about what to expect, the better prepared you can be if and when your baby needs to go to the NICU.
There are several reasons why your newborn may need to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit. Some of the most common reasons include the following:
We don’t often think about it this way, but even a normal birth is a shock to a baby’s system. Their lungs must suddenly start breathing air. Your newborn’s digestive system must suddenly function independently, and their heart must start pumping blood in a whole new way. While these changes often occur as a matter of routine, some newborns have a harder time with transition outside the womb. In some cases, this is because their bodies simply are not developed enough.
Neonatal Intensive Care Units are designed to help babies through this transition when problems arise.
The neonatal intensive care unit is a section of a hospital designed to help newborns who are critically ill or have other serious conditions. A NICU will have special nurses, doctors, and technology specifically devoted to helping newborn patients recover. Not all hospitals will have equally capable or equipped NICUs, so it is possible that your newborn will need to be transferred to a better equipped facility. This will depend on the nature of their condition.
NICUs are designed to have a limited number of visitors; however, parents are invited and encouraged to take part in their newborn’s care during this time.
For parents, it may be hard to know what is expected of you when your newborn is in the NICU. Your life may feel suddenly turned upside down. After all, this is likely not how you were imagining welcoming your new addition into the world; however, it is important to remember that your baby’s time in the NICU is usually temporary.
You will be surrounded by a large array of medical equipment, and you may not necessarily understand what all of it is for. Parents are encouraged to ask questions about this equipment and what it does, especially if it makes them feel better.
There are some things that you can do as parents that will help with your newborn’s care:
Neonatal intensive care units may also require parents to wear certain garments while spending time with their newborn. In some cases, direct contact between newborns and parents will be limited. Much will depend on the condition of your newborn, the nature of their ailment, and their overall health. Parents are encouraged to communicate with their providers to ensure they understand what is happening and why.
Having a child in the NICU can be an intense and stressful experience. It can also feel quite isolating. For many, it will feel like your whole world has suddenly transformed. That is why it is important to put aside some time to take care of yourself. It becomes much harder to support your newborn’s recovery if you have no energy left.
As a result, it’s recommended that parents do the following:
Your NICU may have other support resources available for parents. Be sure to ask your provider about those resources.
Not all parents will spend the same amount of time in the NICU. That’s okay. Every family is different. In general, the baby does not need you there every hour of every day. Some parents spend 12 hours a day in the NICU, while others might spend four.
For understandable reasons, most parents are eager to take their newborns home. Not just because home is more comfortable, but also because it will signal that their baby is healthy enough to leave the hospital.
How long your newborn spends in the NICU will depend on the main reason they are there. Preterm babies, for example, usually spend the longest time in the NICU. That is because their continued growth is critical to their wellness. Typically, preterm babies average a stay in the NICU of somewhere around 45 days, but this depends on how early they arrived and their overall progress.
For most other newborns in the NICU, the stay is somewhat shorter. The average for non-preterm newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit is close to two weeks. Again, this will vary depending on your newborn and the reason for their admittance to the NICU.
The vast majority of babies and parents will never set foot in an NICU, but it happens. So, if you have questions about the NICU, it’s worth asking your OBGYN or Midwife about what you can expect. The more you know ahead of time, the better prepared you’ll be.
The NICU is there to give your baby the best possible chance at a healthy and happy childhood. To talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about the NICU, contact Premier Obstetrics and Gynecology to schedule an appointment today.