What Happens There?
How does a baby end up in the NICU?
Most of us think the NICU is for preemies only, "but newborn babies with all kinds of health problems are cared for there," says Fumagalli. "Fullterm newborns who've had surgery, suffer from an infection from their mother, had low APGAR scores, or went through a rough delivery are also NICU babies." If your doctor knows you're a candidate for a high-risk birth, he may have a team from the NICU present at your delivery to administer emergency care and take your baby there immediately.
What happens to a baby when she first enters the NICU?
There's a pretty standard protocol. First, the baby is placed on a warmer, an open flat bed with a heating element above it, to make sure her body temperature doesn't drop. Then she is hooked up to a heart monitor and the NICU doctors and nurses assess her respiratory status. She may need oxygen through her nose or a tube inserted into her throat to help her breathe. "After that, we take blood and set her up with some form of intravenous food, fluid, or medicine through a vein or through the umbilical cord," Fumagalli says. When all of the baby's vital signs and blood test results are back from the hospital lab, the team creates a health plan for the baby.
How is a NICU nurse different from a regular maternity-ward nurse?
"NICU nurses receive several months of intensive classroom and hands-on training," explains Fumagalli. They learn specialized cardiac and respiratory care; how to work the various machines, such as respirators; how to evaluate monitor readings; and how to administer emergency care. "The only nurses who can work in the NICU are those who have this special training."
The other job requirements -- calmness, compassion, good communication skills, and a love for helping children in crisis -- can't be learned in a classroom. "For nurses who choose to work in the NICU, it's all about loving the babies, giving them the best care possible, and doing everything you can to make sure they have a good outcome," she says.