A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is where a premature or sick baby is kept until they recover and become strong enough to survive without medical aid. If you happen to pass by the unit while in a hospital, you might feel overwhelmed, looking at tiny babies covered in tubes and wires.
However, it is important to understand why a baby is attached to so many machines and what role they play in assisting the baby before they are ready to be on their own. Being a parent to a premature baby, watching your little one through the enclosed glass case inside the NICU could be overwhelming—you are worried, but hopeful that your baby is there with you. You know they will stay there for some time and will soon be healthy and ready to go home.
A NICU may look more like a nursery, where separate incubators or better known as isolette cribs are placed for each infant. Specialized doctors, experienced nurses, and the medical staff are present to look after the babies. Before entering the NICU, you have to thoroughly wash your hands with sterilizing soap. Since babies are more prone to catching an infection, cleaning the hands is necessary to reduce the risk.
Almost babies in a NICU stay in individual isolettes, which regulate the temperature and keep their bodies warm as they would feel in the womb. Radiant warmers are provided for babies born closer to 40 weeks—they have a small warmer present directly above the baby. Some babies have bright blue lights placed over them. The light called bilirubin is a part of phototherapy, which babies receive when they are suffering from acute jaundice.
Premature babies have underdeveloped lungs, which requires them to be attached to an artificial support system for breathing. In the NICU, you will find ventilators that help the baby in breathing by passing air into the lungs through tubes. The infant will have an oxygen mask attached to their face or nose.
X-rays determine whether baby’s lungs are completely developed since preemies are born with premature lungs. Hearing tests are also done to ensure they are able to hear properly. This is done for all newborns.
The staff that looks after your baby include neonatologists that specialize in newborn care, whereas the nurses that take care of the babies have specifically done years of study in nursing newborns. Usually, the nurses are aware of the test results and improvement status in your baby’s health, so you contact them for details when you visit your baby in NICU.
Many parents are apprehensive about holding their babies in the NICU. Since they are attached to the tubes and machines, parents fear holding them wrongly will displace the equipment. However, parents are encouraged to touch and cuddle their babies. The benefit of skin-to-skin contact and the mother’s voice (babies recognize their mother’s voice) benefit preemies and stabilizes their breathing and heart rate.