NICU Preparation Guide – What to Expect in the Ward

Babies born prematurely may be transitioned from the maternity ward into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) within a very short time following birth. In such cases, certain health issues relating to earlier than normal birth necessitate a specific kind of care that can only be delivered in a specialised unit. There is a lot going on in the neonatal unit, so parents may find it overwhelming initially.


The two most important things for every parent to remember are as follows: doctors, nurses and support staff in the nicu ward do everything they can to ensure the best possible outcome for the baby, and parents are free to ask questions as they try to understand what is happening. As you continue reading, you will learn more about what you can expect in the neonatal ward should it ever become necessary.

Why the NICU Is Needed

The neonatal ward is not exclusively for babies born prematurely. Babies may also be admitted to the ward if they are born with exceptionally low birth weight, have a serious infection, the mother has diabetes, or there are other complications that immediately jeopardise the baby’s health to the extent that sufficient care cannot be provided in a standard postnatal ward.

With premature babies, the NICU is necessary due to the sheer number of complications that could arise. Moving a premature baby to the neonatal ward ensures the child gets the best possible care from experienced doctors and nurses who specialise in this sort of thing. Babies born before 34 weeks are likely candidates to be treated in the NICU.

Remaining with Your Baby

Medical science understands the benefits of having parents close by even when babies are in need of specialised critical care. Therefore, parents are allowed to remain in the ward 24 hours a day except under extreme circumstances. It is not uncommon for parents to spend many consecutive days with their babies initially, then take turns staying at the hospital and going home for some rest.

Equally important is the need for parents to immediately be involved in the care of their premature baby. As soon as a premature baby is out of immediate danger, nurses will begin teaching parents how they can contribute. As time passes, parents are contributing more to the care of their babies and learning exactly what will be needed when baby finally goes home.

Feeding in the NICU

Some babies admitted to the neonatal ward are too small or not physically well enough to feed on their own. In such cases, a feeding tube is necessary to ensure proper nutrition. Mothers may be asked to express breast milk to be given through the tube, or doctors may recommend specialised formula packed with the kinds of nutrients babies need to gain weight and strength.

During that time in the neonatal unit, mothers learn about breast milk and all its benefits. It may be necessary to continue expressing breast milk manually even after baby goes home, depending on the child’s ability to feed. Mothers who are providing breast milk in the neonatal ward are encouraged to express extra milk for storage if there are any plans to be away for more than a short amount of time.

Medical Equipment and Devices

Parents who find themselves overwhelmed in the NICU often have trouble taking in everything they see in the complex medical environment. Neonatal wards are packed with all sorts of specialised equipment including incubators and monitors. Much of this equipment will be used to keep the premature baby alive and growing.

The incubator is a very good example due to its highly visible nature. An incubator is a small device used to keep baby warm while he or she is gaining weight. Parents can still have contact with the child, whether through an open top or holes in the sides of the incubator through which they can insert their hands.

At such time as it is safe to remove the premature baby from the incubator, nursing staff will instruct parents in the proper way to do so. Baby will eventually be able to leave the incubator behind completely.

Other equipment commonly found in neonatal units include ventilators, IV bags and lines, and various kinds of monitors. Parents are encouraged to ask questions if they want to know more about any medical device being used to treat their babies. Caregivers will do their best to answer thoroughly and in a way that parents will understand.

Your Baby’s Medical Condition

The greatest concern with premature babies is obviously their health. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risks of illness and medical competitions. Those risks are the primary reason for transitioning a premature baby to the NICU shortly after birth.

A common medical issue premature babies deal with is jaundice. Actually, about half of all babies born in the UK are jaundiced to some extent. Jaundice is a condition in which there is an excessive level of bilirubin in the blood stream. It is easily treated with a simple phototherapy procedure that uses light to break down bilirubin so the body can dispose of it.

With premature babies, jaundice treatment may take several days to complete. Babies will be kept under special lights around the clock, except for feeding breaks. In the most severe cases where phototherapy does not clear up the condition, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Doctors and nurses are also concerned about any disabilities a premature baby might be born with. There are too many possibilities to list them all here, but rest assured that doctors and nurses work with families right from the start to help them understand potential disabilities and what those disabilities will require in terms of day-to-day care.

Your Right to Stay Informed

It is understandable that parents with a baby admitted to the NICU are concerned about the future of the child’s life and health. It is also normal to feel a bit overwhelmed in the first few hours in the NICU. However, parents should try to remember that they have an active role in the immediate care and long-term future of their babies. As such, they have a right to remain informed about what is going on at all times.

Hospital staff should be always ready to explain the treatment baby is receiving along with the reasons that treatment was chosen. In some cases, though, hospital staff are so busy doing what they do that they fail to keep parents up-to-date. Parents have to be their child’s own best advocate at all times, asking questions and insisting on answers throughout the process.

During a child’s stay in the NICU, he or she should receive a visit from a consultant neonatologist or paediatrician capable of explaining what is happening and what can be expected in the future. Social workers are also available to help parents deal with the practical issues related to eventually bringing baby home.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

Giving birth to a premature baby is often a very scary thing. But knowing what to expect in the NICU can reduce the level of fear parents feel. It does not have to be so scary if parents are willing to speak up, ask questions, and learn as much as they can about their baby’s health, the care being received, and what will happen when baby does come home.

If you find yourself in the neonatal unit, do not be afraid to ask questions. Also, be sure to ask for whatever help you need to get a handle on the situation, both immediately and for the future. There are plenty of dedicated professionals eager to help you embrace this new chapter in your parenting life.

This NICU preparation guide is for educational purpose only.  If you have any queries in the ward we advise you to speak to your neonatal nurse or doctor who will be able to answer your questions on more of a professional advise/opinion.

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