Neonatal ICU with life saving equipment and expertise & state of the art maternity section

The birth of a baby is a wonderful and very complex process. Many physical and emotional changes occur for both mother and baby. A baby must make many physical adjustments to life outside the mother's body. Leaving the uterus means that a baby can no longer depend on the mother's blood supply and placenta for important body functions. Before birth, the baby depends on the functions of the mother. These include breathing, eating, elimination of waste, and immune protection. When a baby leaves the womb, its body systems must change. For example:

  • The lungs must breathe air.

  • The cardiac and pulmonary circulation changes.

  • The digestive system must begin to process food and excrete waste.

  • The kidneys must begin working to balance fluids and chemicals in the body and excrete waste.

  • The liver and immune systems must begin working on their own.

What is the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

Newborn babies who need intensive medical care are often put in a special area of the hospital called the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The NICU has advanced technology and trained healthcare professionals to give special care for the tiniest patients. NICUs may also care areas for babies who are not as sick but do need specialized nursing care. Some hospitals don’t have the staff for a NICU and babies must be moved to another hospital.

Babies who need intensive care do better if they are born in a hospital with a NICU than if they are moved after birth. Some newborn babies will require care in a NICU. Giving birth to a sick or premature baby can be unexpected for any parent. The NICU can be overwhelming. This information is to help you understand why a baby may need to be in the NICU. You will also find out about some of the procedures that may be needed for the care of your baby.

Why is my baby in neonatal care?

Babies are admitted into neonatal care for many different reasons. The main reasons for a baby to be admitted are:

  • they are born prematurely

  • they have a low birth weight

  • they have a specific medical condition which needs treatment in hospital

Sometimes, the cause of premature birth or a medical condition will not be known, and you will not know exactly why this has happened to you. You can always talk about why this might have happened at postnatal check-ups, with your midwife, or with a member of the neonatal staff on the unit.

What is a premature birth?

A baby who is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy will be called a premature baby. The neonatal team has different words for different levels of premature birth. They may also use the word ‘preterm’ to talk about your baby being born early.

There are different ways of describing a premature birth.

  • Term = A baby that has spent at least 37 weeks inside the womb (gestation)

  • Preterm = A baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation

  • Moderate to late preterm = A baby born between 32 and 37 weeks’ gestation

  • Very preterm = A baby born between 28 and 32 weeks’ gestation

  • Extremely preterm = A baby born at or before 28 weeks’ gestation

What does low birth weight mean?

Babies who are born small may need to spend time in the neonatal unit. You might hear the staff use these words if your baby has a low birth weight. There are different ways of describing a low birth weight.

  • Low birth weight = Born weighing less than 2500g (5lbs)

  • Very low birth weight = Born weighing less than 1500g (3lbs)

  • Extremely low birth weight = Born weighing less than 1000g (2lbs)

How are medical conditions treated in the neonatal unit?

Neonatal units treat several medical conditions. This can include problems found before your baby was born. These might be conditions that are carried in your family (called genetic or inherited conditions) or where your baby has developed unusually or differently in the womb (called congenital conditions).

Your baby may have a condition because they were born early, or if they were born at term. The staff will give you information about your baby’s medical condition, but if you ever want to know more, you can ask them. They will be happy to talk to you about any questions you might have.