While a full-term, healthy baby is something every parent hopes and waits for, sometimes circumstances so dictate that the new-born needs extra care for the first few days of their life.
- Preemies, i.e. premature babies may need special care to adjust their body temperature and help their lungs develop.
- Others may have faced trauma during childbirth and thus need treatment before they can go home.
- Twins and triplets are sometimes born pre-term and have very low birth weight mandating a longer stay at the hospital.
In all such cases, the one centre in the hospital that manages the needs of these tiny humans is the NICU; full form Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. While some NICUs are highly specialized (Level IV NICUs- which provide the highest degree of neonatal care), and can handle any imaginable emergency, others are designed to address a few or more common problems.
Let’s look at seven things every NICU must have:
1.Highly Trained Staff: Whether they only visit on-call or stay throughout the week, every NICU must have doctors and nurses who can offer specialized care. Neonatologists, Paediatric surgeons and anaesthesiologists are an absolute must, as are staff trained in emergency care and resuscitation.
2. Baby Incubators, Ventilators and Respiratory support: A NICU should have baby warmers or baby incubators. As many preemies have issues with lung development and breathing, a range of sophisticated ventilators, breathing support systems and staff trained to use them must be present.
3. Quick Transfers: In rare cases where the expertise of a teaching hospital or institution is needed, the NICU must have a smooth transfer process that gets the new-born all the required medical attention as soon as possible, without delay and red tape.
4. Privacy: NICUs always play host to highly distressed new-borns and their parents. It is important to have a NICU that has clear separation between the rooms, so that families have a chance to deal with things in private.
5. Parent-Led Care: In all medical emergencies, doctors need to be trusted a hundred percent. Beyond this, there are special circumstances such as milk expression, feeding and Kangaroo Care wherein the mother or caregiver’s support must be taken into consideration while looking after the baby.
6. Transitional Care: For babies who are ready to move out of the NICU and into their homes or less-specialized care areas, a transition team from the NICU can help make changes to the routine so as to help new parents. Also, in most NICUs, all of the baby’s needs are looked after by NICU nurses, so support with daily care, medication and even the use of support equipment while moving out can be reassuring to parents.
7. Crisis Care and Handling: NICUs are busy units and could come across as impersonal. Unfortunately, they are also places of high mortality. The pain of seeing your infant in distress can be very intense. In these cases, a specialized team of psychologists, counsellors and doctors can help with parents under stress, giving them the care they need to cope.
If your doctor expects a high-risk delivery, it is indeed worthwhile to pay a visit to NICU to understand the facilities better. You can ask your doctor for a scheduled tour.
- Levels Of Neonatal Care, Floyd Medical Center
- Designing A Neonatal Care Unit, British Association For Perinatal Medicine, 2004.