The NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
It’s a unit in the hospital that treats newborn babies that are sick.
There are many reasons why babies need to be in the NICU and need NICU care.
In this blog, I’m going to list and explain the most common reasons why babies go to the NICU.
So, let’s get started.
1.A Premature Baby
This is the most common reason babies go to the NICU.
A premature baby is a baby born earlier than 37 wks.
When a baby is born premature, their whole body systems are premature too!
Their lungs and heart are not developed enough, so they need help from machines to breathe.
Their brain is not fully developed, so they cannot eat on their own yet and have a feeding tube.
They have problems managing their temperature, so they are in isolettes.
Also, they are born small and fragile, so they need to be protected from infection.
A premature baby needs extensive medical interventions.
So they usually stay in the NICU until they are full-term, are growing well, can breathe on their own and eat by bottle or breast on their own.
This includes premature babies and full-term babies.
It’s obvious that a premature baby will have breathing problems, so they are automatically admitted to the NICU.
What most people don’t know is full term babies (babies born after 37 wks) can have breathing problems too!
Usually, full-term babies have fully developed lungs and shouldn’t have breathing problems.
But many things can happen during labour that can cause a baby to be born without breathing or gasping.
Therefore, the baby is born and needs extra breathing support.
Any baby that is born full-term and has any breathing concern is taken to the NICU.
In the NICU, many medical interventions are performed like putting the baby on a breathing machine.
Also, chest Xrays and lab work are done to figure out why the breathing problem is there in the first place.
The baby stays in the NICU until the breathing is stable on room air or oxygen and the baby can eat well.
3. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
This is usually
1. babies that are born full-term to mothers who have gestational diabetes-these babies are usually large babies for their age
2. babies who are born full-term, but are small for their age (usually less than 6lbs)
Babies who are born to mothers with diabetes during pregnancy are used to living in a high sugar environment, which is inside the mother’s belly.
Once they are born, the connection from the mom is cut( ie. umbilical cord is cut).
Therefore, the blood sugars in these babies will drop very fast after birth.
They need lots of blood sugar monitoring and need IV to bring up their blood sugar in the NICU.
Also, any baby born who is small for their age( in weight) can have blood sugar problems too!
This is because when they are born small, their body doesn’t have enough glucose storage to keep their blood sugar normal.
In both situations, these babies stay in the NICU until they are eating well and can maintain their own blood sugar without IV or other medical support.
4.Congenital Defect that needs monitoring
Any baby born with a physical abnormality is admitted to the NICU immediately.
These physical abnormalities are seen in the ultrasounds during pregnancy.
Depending on what the congenital defect is, they might need breathing support, temperature support and many other interventions.
The most common congenital defect found in babies are:
- Heart defect
- Cleft lip
- Genetic concerns (ie, Down Syndrome)
These babies are stabilized in the NICU.
Then, eventually, they are followed by a specialist when they are discharged home.
This is a baby born to a mother who has been using drugs in her pregnancy.
This includes any drug that a withdrawal can happen.
If a baby is going through withdrawal and they are not closely monitored, they can have seizures, diarrhea or other neurological complications.
So, in the NICU, these babies are monitored closely and are given a small dose of narcotics to help with the pain of the withdrawal.
Also, in the NICU the social worker and health care team assess if the mother is capable of taking the baby home.
Or if the drug use is a consistent problem.
If so, the baby might have to be taken away and given to other family members to be cared for.
An infection is usually caught during labour or after the baby is born.
Risk factors that increase chance of infection includes:
- GBS positive
- if your water has been broken for many hours
- If the mother or baby develops a fever during and after birth
Any baby with a risk of infection is started on antibiotics right away after a blood culture and urine is sent.
These babies are on antibiotics for couple of days to weeks.
These babies can go home once the antibiotics are done, blood culture is negative, and the baby is eating and growing well.
Final Thoughts on Why Babies need NICU Care
There are many other reasons why babies need NICU care, but I mentioned the most common reasons.
These are the most common reasons I have seen as a NICU nurse.
There are also different NICU levels of care based on the condition of your baby and what kind of care they need. Check out the blog post!
I want NICU parents to understand why their baby was admitted to the NICU and hopefully my post has answered some of your questions.
I know it’s hard to have your baby away from you once they go to the NICU..
But just remember that the NICU is the best place for them to receive proper medical treatment.
Why did your baby go to the NICU? Was it a surprise or was it expected (ie. preemie)
If anything on my blog has helped you, please make sure to share the post, comment below the post and subscribe to my email list for more goodies.
I would love to hear from you!