The birth of a baby is a beautiful process, but at the same time, it is also a very complicated process as many physical and emotional changes occur for mother and baby. When a baby leaves the mother’s body, then he/she has to make many physical adjustments to life as he/she is no longer depended on the mother’s circulation and placenta for essential physiologic functions.
When a baby is in the mother’s womb, his/her all body functions like breathing, eating, elimination of waste, and immunologic protection, all are carried by his/her mother. When a newborn baby comes into the world, many body systems change dramatically from the way they functioned during fetal life:
• The lungs must breathe air.
• The digestive system must process food and excrete waste.
• The cardiac and pulmonary circulation changes.
• The kidneys must balance fluids and chemicals in the body and excrete waste.
• The liver must function independently.
What is the Neonatal Unit?
Neonatal unit is a special care facility provided in hospital 24/7 for premature or sick babies. There are three types of neonatal unit:
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): It is for the babies who are seriously ill.
High-dependency care: It is for the babies who do not need to be in the NICU, but they still require complex care.
Special care: It is for the babies who born closer to their due date or who have a less serious illness.
What is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit?
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is also called as NICU is a special area of the hospital in which newborn babies who need intensive medical attention are often admitted. The NICU combines advanced technology and trained health care professionals to provide specialized care to the newly born babies.
Which Babies need Special Care?
Usually, babies admitted to the NICU are premature (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have a low birth weight, or have a medical condition that requires special care. Twins, triplets, and other multiples are often admitted to the NICU, as they tend to be born earlier and smaller than single birth babies. Also, the babies with medical conditions such as heart problems, infections, or birth defects are admitted in the NICU for special care.
Here are a few factors that can place a baby at high risk and increase the chances of being admitted to the NICU. The high-risk factors include the following:
• Drug or alcohol exposure
• Age younger than 16 or older than 40 years
• Sexually transmitted diseases
• Multiple pregnancies
• Too little or too much amniotic fluid
• Premature rupture of membranes
• Changes in organ systems due to lack of oxygen
• Breech delivery presentation or other abnormal presentation
• The baby’s first stool passed during pregnancy into the amniotic fluid, this condition is called as Meconium.
• Nuchal cord
• Forceps or cesarean delivery
• Birth at gestational age less than 37 weeks or more than 42 weeks
• Birth weight less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces that are 2500 grams or over 8 pounds, 13 ounces that is 4000 grams.
• Medication or resuscitation in the delivery room
• Small for gestational age
• Infection such as herpes, group B streptococcus, chlamydia
• Need for extra oxygen or monitoring, intravenous therapy, or medications
• Need for special treatment or procedures such as blood transfusion
What to expect in the NICU?
In a NICU everything is different which can be frightening for parents but knowing what to expect can help parents feel less afraid. In a NICU, babies will be placed in enclosed, and transparent plastic cribs called incubators. These incubators are designed to:
• Keep the babies warm.
• Decrease the risk of infection and illnesses.
• Control the moisture, so the babies do not become dehydrated.
There are wires attached to the babies in the incubator which monitor the newborn baby’s breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature at all times. The babies may also have tubes attached which provide fluid, oxygen or medicines.
Can you visit a NICU?
Family members over the age of 18 can visit the baby. Feel as comfortable as possible with a baby in NICU and don’t hesitate in asking questions to the nurse. Visiting the baby will give you the opportunity to bond with a baby and learn how to take care of him/her.
How long will your baby remain in the NICU?
How long will your baby remain in the NICU depends on the severity of the illnesses. The average period of hospital stay for newborns in a NICU is 13.2 days. However, babies born earlier than 32 weeks into pregnancy stayed for an average of 46.2 days. You can watch your babies grow and progress day by day as they get stronger and are eventually released from the hospital.
Who will take care of your baby in the unit?
On the neonatal unit, a team of people from different professions will take care of your baby which include:
- Specialist neonatal nurses.
- Consultant neonatologist
- Junior doctor