The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): what to expect
When it comes to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in India, understanding the levels of care is an important first step. Units are typically divided into four levels:
Level I is a newborn nursery and provides special care such as immunizations and early evaluation by a pediatrician.
Level II is a special care nursery and offers basic specialty care such as oxygen, IVs, and monitoring.
Level III is a neonatal intensive-care unit that provides close observation and full support for critically ill or premature infants, including respiratory support and specialized treatments for conditions such as infections.
Level IV is a regional neonatal intensive-care unit that serves highly specialized needs with sophisticated medical technology and specialists in neonatology, cardiology, surgery, endocrinology, and more.
If your baby was born with health conditions or has a medical emergency after birth, admission to the NICU or neonatal intensive care unit may become necessary.
Premature babies may require intravenous fluids or liquids or a feeding tube under professional supervision. If being in the NICU is necessary for your baby, don't panic—ask questions; the NICU staff will explain what's going on every step of the way and help you understand everything.
When your baby is in the NICU, their care is managed by a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals that includes neonatologists, specialist pediatricians, nurses, nutritionists, and other staff specialized in caring for preterm and sick newborns. This team works together to provide personalized care for each baby and family.
The NICU nutritionist's role is especially important because nutrition for newborns is vital for their health and growth. For this reason, breast milk should be started as soon as possible. Breast milk is said to be the best nutrition for premature babies.
It's important to know that when you bring your baby home from the NICU, they may still need extra support with feeding. This means ongoing monitoring by your doctor and dietician to ensure your baby meets all their nutritional needs.
The NICU staff are also specially trained to address health problems, such as:
Hygienic umbilical cord and skin care to prevent infection;
Early and exclusive breastfeeding to promote optimal growth;
Assessment for signs of serious health problems, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension; and
Monitoring of vital signs (heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate).
Regarding the NICU setting in India, parents are full partners with the medical team in caring for their infant. The NICU team works with parents to create a comprehensive care plan for their high-risk newborns.
While parents often feel unable to participate in their baby's care due to the technological complexity of the NICU, parents are encouraged to remain involved in decisions to provide support and comfort for their baby.
Being a parent to a baby born in the NICU can be a stressful experience, but remember that you're not alone. The medical staff and professionals in the NICU are dedicated to your baby's care and well-being; being well-informed and asking questions will help you understand the process better.