Mother and Baby

Neonatal Unit Care For Your Baby: What To Expect

With all of the incubators, tubes and medical staff, neonatal wards can be a bit overwhelming. Here’s what to expect if your baby is staying in one

Whether your baby is being looked after in a neonatal unit because he was born prematurely, had a medical condition diagnosed before birth or just requires some extra special care, it’s important to remember that he’s in the safest place he can be. Neonatal units (NNU), or special care baby units (SCBU) as they’re sometimes called, provide around the clock care for your baby, giving him the best start in life possible.

Don’t get confused by jargon used by health professionals when talking about your baby’s care – there are different units that your baby may be admitted to depending on her condition.

‘Units will differ in their criteria for admitting a baby to their neonatal unit,’ explains Sara Watkin, consultant neonatologist at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. ‘This will usually depend on whether they have transitional care facilities and how these areas are staffed. In a transitional care area, your baby can stay with you but receive extra support.

‘In some hospitals, babies who need antibiotics at birth, because of concerns about infection, will be admitted to a neonatal unit, and in other hospitals they will be admitted to a transitional care area,’ Sara explains.

Your baby’s support 

Each baby is different and so your baby’s care will differ from all of the other babies’ in the unit.

‘Depending on how premature or unwell your baby is, care may include being kept warm in an incubator, having help with his breathing from a machine or having special food given into one of his veins,’ explains Sara.

Each baby is different and so your baby’s care will differ from all of the other babies’ in the unit.

But some babies on a neonatal unit will need much less support than this. ‘For example, your baby may be just a few weeks premature but because he’s not yet developed the ability to suck he may need to be given milk through a special tube placed through his nose and into his stomach,’ Sara explains.

Your baby will be looked after by a team of specialist doctors and nurses and other professionals will be on hand, including physiotherapists and speech and language therapists.

The visiting times 

You should be able to visit your baby 24 hours a day, allowing you to spend as much time as possible bonding with your newborn and helping to care for him. Your baby’s unit may even have a place that you can sleep.

‘Unfortunately very few units have enough rooms for all parents to stay all of the time,’ Sara explains. ‘Priorities are usually parents of a very sick baby, mothers who are establishing breast feeding and rooms for both parents to stay with their baby just before their baby is ready to go home.’

If your baby’s up to it, you can even express breast milk for the nurses to give to him. ‘To begin with, you’ll only get a few drops of colostrum,’ says Sara. ‘These few drops of milk are very precious for your baby and the unit’s staff will either rub it inside his mouth so he begins to recognise you or give it to him through a special tube which goes in through the nose or mouth.’

However, there are rules for visitors aside from you and your partner.

‘Most neonatal units have strict rules about the number and type of other visitors – especially during winter,’ Sara says. ‘This is because many babies on a neonatal unit, especially those born prematurely, could become very poorly if they catch an infection and we want to protect them as much as we possibly can.’

What support will you be offered?

Having a preterm or unwell baby can be expensive and many neonatal units recognise this and help out where they can. ‘Often hospitals subsidise car parking and travel often from Charity funds,’ says Sara. ‘The same applies to meals and many units will supply food for visiting parents.’

Staff on the unit will support you as much as possible in learning to care for your baby and provide as much emotional support as possible. ‘Most neonatal units will also have a counsellor or psychologist to support you through what can be an incredibly stressful time,’ says Sara.

There are also some brilliant charities such as Bliss and Tommys that can provide you and your family with extra help and guidance.

How did you find your baby’s neonatal ward care? Let us know in the comments box below.

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