Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) need constant monitoring and 24-hour care from a variety of health care professionals. You will want to get to know the doctors, nurses and other staff members who care for your baby.
There also are staff persons whose role is to help you with various concerns. They will be valuable sources of information in the days and weeks to come.
To help you get acquainted, here are some of the staff members you're likely to meet:
Neonatologist: A pediatrician (children's doctor) with advanced training in the care of sick newborns. The neonatologist who is in charge of the NICU is sometimes called the “attending” doctor. There may be several neonatologists in the NICU. For more information, read "What is a neonatalogist?" from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Neonatology fellow: A fully-trained pediatrician who is receiving advanced training in the care of sick newborns.
Neonatal clinical nurse specialist: A neonatal nurse with advanced training who works under the supervision of the neonatologist and who cares for sick and premature babies.
Neonatal nurse practitioner: A registered nurse who has advanced education (usually a master's degree) and specialized training in working with premature and sick newborns. He or she works under the direction of the neonatologist, can perform many procedures, and helps direct your baby's care.
Occupational therapist (OT): A health professional who helps evaluate a baby's neurosensory development. ("Neurosensory" refers to the baby's nervous system.) The OT focuses on feeding and swallowing issues, range of motion in the arms and legs, and developmental positioning.
Pediatric resident: A doctor who is receiving training in the medical specialty of pediatrics.
Physical therapist (PT): A health professional who helps evaluate how a baby moves and how any movement problems may affect milestones like sitting, rolling over or walking. The physical therapist aims to improve muscle strength and coordination.
Registered dietitian (RD): An expert in nutrition who has a four-year college degree. RDs have passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Registered dietitians who work in the NICU also have had additional training in nutrition for children. These health professionals work with the neonatologists and nurses to help make sure your baby is geeting all the nutrients she needs for healthy growth.
Registered nurse: A health professional who has passed a written examination after graduating from a college or hospital nursing program. Registered nurses in NICUs have experience in caring for sick newborns.
Respiratory therapist: A health professional trained to care for babies with breathing problems and to use the medical equipment needed to care for these babies.
Social worker: A professional who is specially trained to help you cope with the emotional aspects of your baby's NICU stay. The social worker can help you obtain the information you need from your baby's doctors, provide you with sources of information on your baby's medical problems, help you deal with financial difficulties and stress, and help you make any special arrangements you may need for your baby's discharge and follow-up care.
Speech and language pathologist: A person who is trained in speech and language problems. He or she often works with newborns in NICUs to help assist them with feeding problems.
Technicians: Staff members who perform specific procedures such as drawing blood or taking x-rays.
These health professionals are all part of a team that is working to help your baby get stronger and to help you cope with this difficult time
You also are an important member of the team of people who care for your baby. You should never hesitate to ask questions about how your baby is doing or to learn ways you can help.
See also: Share your story
It depends on your baby's health overall. Some newborn intensive care units (NICUs) will encourage you to hold your baby from birth onward. Other NICUs will want you to wait until your baby's health is stable. Ask your NICU staff about its policy on kangaroo care (holding your baby on your bare chest). Kangaroo care has benefits for both you and your baby. The skin-to-skin contact is a precious way to be close to your baby. You may be afraid you'll hurt him by holding him. But you won't. Your baby knows your scent, touch and the rhythms of your speech and breathing, and he’ll enjoy feeling that closeness with you.
Not all newborn intensive care unit (NICU) babies are born premature. Some babies, even those born full term, may need special care. Your baby may need to spend some time in the NICU if she had a difficult delivery, has breathing problems, has infections or has birth defects.
Most babies leave the NICU just fine. Others may need more special care once they're home.