Holding your baby for the first time is a precious and surreal moment. The trauma of premature birth gives rise to a multitude of emotions. Having a baby admitted to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be an incredibly stressful time- it is essential to have the support of family, friends, and a religious leader to help guide you through the process.
Babies who are born prematurely or have severe underlying problems are admitted, within 24 hours after birth to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Newborns in NICU will have trouble feeding and usually receive baby formula or breast milk through feeding tubes. Mothers offer baby formula and pumped breast milk in bottles, or a lactation consultant will be referred to address newborn feeding issues. Kangaroo care, also known as skin-to-skin contact such as stroking can help with the baby’s recovery. Mothers will have to wait until the newborn is stable enough to initiate kangaroo care.
Why is my baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)?
A newborn before the 37th week of pregnancy is most likely to be admitted to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Underdeveloped lungs, unstable body temperature and slow weight gain are some of the complications that arise from premature birth. Babies born before 32 weeks/weighting less than 2,5kg need support breathing and will be admitted to neonatal intensive care unit until they have fully developed to survive on their own. Mothers who have cervical or uterus problems, develop infections, have medical conditions such as pre-eclampsia which can be diagnosed during routine antenatal appointments, or have health conditions such as diabetes, are more susceptible to premature birth. Babies born prematurely are likely to develop infections, anaemia, jaundice and heart problems.
What equipment is available in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)?
IncubatorsIncubators help regulate the newborn’s body temperature as premature babies lack brown fat under the skin to keep them warm. Incubators are clear boxes with holes on either side to maintain the heat and humidity in the box to prevent moisture evaporating from the baby’s skin.
VentilatorsPositive pressure ventilators gently pump air into the newborn’s lungs through a tube passed through their nose or mouth. A high-frequency oscillating ventilator pumps air into the infant’s lungs very quickly and, though it seems as if the baby’s chest is vibrating, this helps with certain lung conditions.
Feeding tubeBreast milk or baby formula is fed through a tube passed down the baby's nose or mouth into the stomach. The infant formula or donor milk is fed through a tube if the mother is unable to express milk or the newborn has trouble feeding. A fortifier is added to breastmilk to make sure the newborn receives the necessary nutrients.
Intravenous (IV) dripIntravenous drips are tiny tubes is inserted in the baby’s foot, hand, arm or leg. In rare cases, small veins on the surface of the newborn’s head are used to insert the IV drip to feed fluids or antibiotics.
Vital signs monitorA vital sign monitor detects irregular heartbeat from the electrical signals from tiny pads on the baby’s chest emitted from the newborn’s heart. Pads are attached to wires that run from the monitoring machine.
How can I help my baby while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)?
Washing and changing the newborn can help parents establish a stronger bond with their baby. Parents take a hands-on role when cleaning and caring for their newborn, which allows them to feel more connected to their baby. Families are encouraged to sing, talk, read and pray in the presence of the infant to speed up their recovery.